New US Senators Bring Diverse Backgrounds, Voices to Washington
CAPITOL HILL —
At the start of a new U.S. Congress, Republicans expand their Senate majority to 53 members, while Democrats number 47, including two independents who caucus with them. The 2018 midterm elections featured 33 Senate contests for six-year terms in the 100-member chamber. Up for grabs were 23 seats held by Democrats, eight by Republicans and both independents. Democrats won two Republican-held seats, while Republicans captured four Democratic seats for a net gain of two. Both independents won re-election.
VOA takes a look at the senators who are new to the chamber, many of whom are already well-known in Washington and beyond.
Marsha Blackburn, Republican
Blackburn defeated former Tennessee Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen in November to succeed Republican Bob Corker, who retired after serving two terms and rising to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Blackburn joins the Senate after serving 16 years in the House, representing a western Tennessee district. A self-described “hard-core” conservative who claims to carry a gun in her purse and disputes the science of climate change, Blackburn has criticized fellow Republican lawmakers who worked with Democrats on a range of domestic issues. She backs President Donald Trump’s push to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. A Presbyterian born in Mississippi, Blackburn is married and has two children.
“Taking away gun rights, or putting in place gun control, is not going to be something that makes our communities safe. The Democrats in [Washington] D.C. are focused on taking away your Second Amendment rights [to bear arms]. I am supported by the NRA [National Rifle Association, a gun rights lobbying group], I am endorsed by the NRA. I have an A’ rating from the NRA.” — Marsha Blackburn, Sept. 25, 2018
Mike Braun, Republican
Braun defeated moderate, one-term Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly in a Republican-leaning state. A Harvard graduate who expanded his family’s auto parts business, Braun served as a state lawmaker for three years before running for the Senate. He opposes former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act, backs building a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and opposes abortion. Braun has voiced support for Trump’s trade policies while facing criticism during the campaign for his company’s distribution of foreign-made auto parts. Born In Jasper, Indiana, he is a married Roman Catholic with four children.
“President Trump is right that we must rectify the long-standing inequities in our trade relationships. I understand the pain our industries are feeling here in Indiana from retaliatory measures by China, and we must do everything we can to mitigate short-term consequences. President Trump’s trade strategy has already yielded phenomenal results with the EU and Mexico.” — Mike Braun, Sept. 14, 2018, Indy Star
Kevin Cramer, Republican
State: North Dakota
Cramer handily beat centrist, one-term Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp in a mostly rural, conservative state. He comes to the Senate after representing all of North Dakota in the House for six years. A former chairman of the state’s Republican Party, Cramer has backed Trump’s travel bans from mostly Muslim nations, endorsed oil and gas drilling on public lands, voted for Trump’s tax cut package, and indicated his views line up with an anti-LGBT group that compares homosexuality to pedophilia and backs conversion therapy to “cure” same-sex attractions. An evangelical Christian, Cramer is married with five children.
“To suggest that this [travel ban] somehow emboldens or incites our enemies is to put our enemies in control of American policy, and that’s just not true. I think what Donald Trump is doing is he’s pulling America’s head out of the sand and facing the reality that we have not been kept very safe by current immigration and refugee policies.” — Kevin Cramer, Jan. 29, 2017, Grand Forks Herald
Josh Hawley, Republican
Hawley defeated moderate two-term Democrat Claire McCaskill and enters the Senate as its youngest member. A Yale Law School graduate, Hawley clerked for U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts before championing religious liberty cases in the federal courts. Elected Missouri’s state attorney general in 2016, Hawley joined other Republican state attorneys general in challenging the Affordable Care Act, a case that saw a federal judge declare the law unconstitutional late last year. During his Senate campaign, Hawley backed Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, supported the president’s trade tariffs, advocated stronger background checks for gun buyers, and blamed Hollywood culture and changing attitudes on sexuality for sex trafficking. Born in Arkansas, Hawley is married and has two children.
“The president needs to take whatever steps are necessary [to secure U.S. borders]. If that means closing the [U.S.-Mexico] border, he should do it. Look, this [illegal immigration] is a potential national security crisis that is brewing by the hour.” — Josh Hawley, Oct. 25, 2018
Martha McSally, Republican
After narrowly losing a Senate race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, McSally was named late last year to fill Arizona’s other Senate seat formerly held by Republican John McCain, who died in August. She previously represented Arizona for two terms in the House of Representatives and is a retired U.S. Air Force combat pilot and squadron commander who rose to the rank of colonel and flew missions over Kuwait and Iraq. In 2001, she challenged the military policy requiring U.S. servicewomen to wear a body-covering cloak when traveling off base in Saudi Arabia. She has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, criticized the Iran nuclear deal and opposed Obama’s executive orders protecting undocumented immigrants brought to America as children as well as his efforts to close the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Born in Rhode Island, McSally was once married and has a Golden Retriever she rescued.
“President Trump is a disrupter. He’s doing that and we’re seeing the results from that. Not a lot of people wanted to tackle the challenges of North Korea getting access to a nuclear weapon that could hold an American city hostage. Not a lot of people wanted to address updating bad trade agreements so that they would help Americans.” — Martha McSally, Oct. 16, 2018
Mitt Romney, Republican
Romney handily beat Democrat Jenny Wilson to succeed long-serving Republican Senator Orrin Hatch in one of America’s most conservative states. Romney spent three years as a Mormon missionary in France before getting both law and business degrees at Harvard. He served as a business consultant, private equity investor, and head of Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympic Games Organizing Committee, after which he served as Massachusetts’ governor for a single term. He was the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee, losing to then-President Barack Obama. A pro-business conservative, Romney fiercely opposed Trump’s presidential candidacy in 2016. Romney is married with five children.
“Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities: The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics. You know, we have long referred to him as ‘The Donald.’ He’s the only person in the entire country to whom we have added an article before his name, and it was not because he had attributes we admired.” — Mitt Romney, March 3, 2016
Jacky Rosen, Democrat
Rosen was the only Democrat to unseat a Republican senator in 2018, defeating incumbent Dean Heller in Nevada. She joins the Senate after representing Nevada for two years in the House. In November, she gave her victory speech at Caesars Palace casino in Las Vegas, where she had waited tables as a young adult. She also worked as a computer programmer and software developer, and championed solar energy projects and programs to feed the homeless in her state. Rosen is pro-choice on abortion, supports an assault weapons ban, and backs the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform and a $15 per hour minimum wage. Born in Illinois, Rosen is Jewish and married with a daughter.
“We need to stop this reckless [immigrant] family separation [practice] at the border. The only way we do that is coming to the table and working on bipartisan immigration reform that does secure our borders with smart border security and does provide a pathway to [U.S.] citizenship for those who want it.” — Jacky Rosen, Oct. 19, 2018
Rick Scott, Republican
Scott narrowly defeated centrist Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in a hotly contested race that went to a recount. Scott comes to the Senate from Florida’s governor’s mansion, where he has served since 2011. Scott served in the Navy before becoming a private hospital executive, venture capitalist and baseball club co-owner. As governor, he declined to take a position on climate change, saying he was not a scientist and therefore unqualified to make a determination. He has sought to bring added scrutiny to voter registration and limit early voting. Scott backed Trump in 2016, and Trump campaigned for Scott’s Senate bid last year. Born in Illinois, Scott is married with two children.
“If you don’t think elections have consequences, look at what happened in Venezuela, where, today, a baby born in Venezuela is not going to get the right food, not going to get the right medicine. All these problems, whether you are talking about [President Daniel] Ortega in Nicaragua or [President Nicolas] Maduro in Venezuela, are caused because of the Castro brothers [in Cuba] and the unrest they are creating in Latin America.” — Rick Scott, Oct. 2, 2018
Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat
Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally to claim the Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Jeff Flake. A three-term U.S. House member, Sinema is an attorney and was active in the anti-war movement before launching her political career. In 2012, she published a doctoral dissertation on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, concluding that it “was not inevitable, but it certainly was predictable.” Sinema backs gun control measures, improving rather than scrapping the Affordable Care Act, LGBT rights, and protections for undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. Raised Mormon, she currently is religiously unaffiliated. She becomes the Senate’s first openly bisexual member.
“The Rwandan genocide is notable for its swiftness, brutality, and intense efficiency. Nearly one million people were killed in less than 100 days. No other genocide in modern history has been as effective in attaining its goal of extermination of a minority people. And yet, the world stood by and took no action.” — Kyrsten Sinema. “Who Must Die: The State of Exception in Rwanda’s Genocide,” April 2012