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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

US Congress welcomes trailblazers as record number of women and minorities elected  

Divisive Trump brings voters together in midterms

Democrat Rashida Tlaib celebrates her election to the House of Representatives with her mother. Reuters 
Democrat Rashida Tlaib celebrates her election to the House of Representatives with her mother. Reuters 

The United States’ 116th Congress will have record number of women, LGBT, Muslim, Latin American and Native American representation following Tuesday’s landmark midterm elections.

The diversity of the high-profile midterm cycle means a number of winners will take office as trailblazers, with the incoming class of lawmakers expected to have a stark impact on politics in the nation's capital, particularly within the Democratic Party.

“Here in Minnesota, we don’t only welcome immigrants, we send them to Washington” said Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Somali-American who came to the US as a refugee and won 78 per cent of the vote in Minnesota's 5th congressional district. Ms Omar will be one of the two first Muslim women to serve in Congress, alongside Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who won uncontested in her district.

They will also be joined by veteran politician Donna Shalala of Lebanese descent who won her seat in Florida. The three newly elected Congresswomen will join five Congressmen of Arab descent now in the House of Representatives. Keith Ellison became the first Muslim attorney general of Minnesota.

But the Arab American and Muslim communities are not the only ones that broke the glass ceiling on Tuesday night. Ayanna Pressley and Jahana Hayes became first black women to represent their states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, in Congress. Marsha Blackburn became the first woman to make it to the Senate from Tennessee, and Jacky Rosen became the first female to represent Nevada in US Senate. Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer will be Iowa’s first women in the House, while Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids made it as America’s first Native American women to win in Congress - the latter as the first openly gay Native American in Congress.

Similarly, in historically ruby red Texas, Democratic candidates Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia are now the first Latin American women in Congress.

Overall, women representation in the House will hit 100 in January while 12 will be in the Senate.

The LGBT community also had a historic night on Tuesday. Jared Polis became the first openly gay elected governor in the state of Colorado along with Ms Davids in Congress.

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In Governors’ races, Kristi Noem and Janet Mills became the first women in that position in South Dakota and Maine.

Shibley Telhami, the director of “critical issues poll” at the University of Maryland, said the election of three Arab American women “has to be inspiring…as they there are three women of under-represented minorities”.

However, said Mr Telhami, their rise speaks of a different type of phenomenon.

On the one hand, "Donna Shalala has been a prominent successful Democrat who has been proud of her Arab Lebanese heritage, but that has not been a defining characteristic of her career” Mr Telhami told The National.

In contrast Ms Tlaib “has been inspiring to Arab Americans because she has been upfront about her Palestinian heritage and her progressive views; and Ms Omar has proudly displayed her identity, especially her religion, including through her dress, and is a naturalised American to boot.”

Asked if President Donald Trump’s hostile positions on immigrants and Muslims have triggered the rise of these women, Mr Telhami emphasised that “each district has its own local politics and these cases are no exception; they may have been elected without the Trump factor.”

However, added Mr Telhami, Mr Trump “energised women to run and vote and that showed in the participation and the outcome.”

“His anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric led Democrats to rally behind immigrants and Muslims…and although this is hard to measure [in polls] the big picture suggests that Mr Trump was a factor.”