Rollicking start to diverse new Congress as kids crowd in

Washington (AFP) - America's freshly sworn-in lawmakers -- a historically diverse group of Democrats and Republicans -- enjoyed a rollicking first session of the new Congress Thursday, a rowdy opening day that saw children scampering through the chamber.

The House of Representatives chamber was clogged with its 434 certified new members -- one seat remains in dispute -- along with several dozen of their children and grandkids, and hundreds of guests packing the upper-level galleries.

Democrats cheered as Nancy Pelosi won a hotly contested election for speaker. They snapped selfies with her and others in the House well.

Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, the first Native American women ever to serve in Congress, shared a warm hug after they were sworn in.

The raucous opening day, with Democrats seizing control of the House and ending the political stranglehold that President Donald Trump had on both chambers, serves as an apt metaphor for the new Congress.

But it also may foreshadow the chaotic nature of divided government that Washington now faces in the Trump era.

Among the new lawmakers are record numbers of women and African-Americans, the youngest woman elected in 29-year-old liberal sensation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the first two Muslim-American women elected to Congress, including Somali immigrant Ilhan Omar, who placed her hand on a Koran for her ceremonial swearing-in.

In short, a Congress that is far less male, pale and stale than ever.

"Whenever Congress looks like America, it performs better," a beaming two-term Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, himself an immigrant from India, told AFP.

It might be a bit rowdier, too -- at least it was on Thursday. Two of Krishnamoorthi's three children were in the chamber, including his nine-year-old son, who he acknowledged "was running around a lot."

- Freewheeling spirit -

The normally staid Capitol Hill atmosphere is often jettisoned on the first day of a new Congress, every two years, in favor of a more freewheeling spirit to welcome new lawmakers.

Many brought their kids onto the House floor, which at times looked more like a scene from "Daddy Day Care" than a congressional session.

One boy sitting with veteran Republicans tapped his face with a speaker's gavel, the instrument used to bring the chamber to order.

Democrat Eric Swalwell cradled his infant daughter -- born just nine weeks ago and nicknamed Cricket -- during the vote. She appeared unfazed by the commotion, except when she woke up to wail.

"Her first words were Nancy Pelosi. It was amazing!" Swalwell quipped.

Swalwell spoke of his eagerness to bring his daughter to witness the historic number of women joining Congress.

"I wanted her to experience that and tell her about it later," he said.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, more than one-fifth of the 100 women in the House and 27 female senators are mothers to young or school-age children.

Pelosi, who brought several of her grandchildren to the session, invited all little ones up to the House rostrum.

They swarmed around her as Pelosi took her oath of office.

Things were more sedate on the Senate side, where Vice President Mike Pence conducted the swearing in for the chamber's nine new members.


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