Politics

In the most diverse Congress ever, Miami has one of the most diverse delegations

The most diverse Congress in history is bolstered by Miami’s new delegation.

Miami-Dade’s five-member contingent in the House of Representatives — four of them women — comprises African-American, Jewish, Lebanese-American and Cuban-American lawmakers, along with the first Ecuadorian-American in Congress.

The group — Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala, Mario Diaz-Balart and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell — takes office for the next two years alongside the first Muslim women elected to Congress, the first Native American women elected to Congress and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Diaz-Balart is the only Republican in the group, and the new-found diversity in Congress is almost solely due to gains by Democrats in the 2018 election, when at least 40 seats switched parties after President Donald Trump’s first two years in office. Diaz-Balart’s successful reelection ensured that a Miami Cuban-American would remain in the House after Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen retired.

“It just reflects the country. It’s the way it’s going to be from now on,” said Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio, one of four Hispanics in the U.S. Senate. “Congress should naturally reflect the country and sometimes it takes a couple of decades to get there because people have to get to a stage in their life where they can run, but I would expect that every year from here on out Congress will look more and more like America does.”

The 2018 election contained several historical firsts in Miami-Dade. Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s loss to Mucarsel-Powell was the first time an incumbent Cuban-American lost to a non-Cuban in Miami. Shalala becomes the second-oldest first-year member of Congress in history after a long career as a former Cabinet secretary and president of the University of Miami. And Mucarsel-Powell is the first Hispanic born in South America elected to Congress.

Though Congress is still disproportionately represented by white men, a record 127 women will serve during the next two years, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, and the Congressional Black Caucus has its largest contingent ever with 55 members. House Republicans became more white and more male as whole after the 2018 elections, and some female Republicans are unhappy with their party’s leadership when it comes to recruiting diverse candidates for office.

Both Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell made diversity a priority when choosing their staffs as they both represent districts that are majority Hispanic. Most of their top staffers are Spanish-speakers.

“When choosing my senior staff, I knew it was important that my staff represent the rich diversity of Florida’s 26th congressional district,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement. “In the previous Congress, three-quarters of Representatives did not have any racial minority in their senior staff. I am proud to bring together people with diverse backgrounds, skills and ideas to tackle some of our country’s biggest challenges.”

Alex Daugherty is the Washington correspondent for the Miami Herald, covering South Florida from the nation’s capital. Previously, he worked as the Washington correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for the Herald covering politics in Miami.
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