When former Minnesota lieutenant governor Tina Smith is sworn in to replace Al Franken, Congress’ upper chamber will have a record number of female members
The present of the United States Senate is increasingly female.
By the end of today, there will be 22 women in the body that calls itself the world’s greatest deliberative chamber—a historic record. The off-election year change was triggered by the resignation of Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, who was forced out due to sexual harassment allegations. The former comedian will be replaced by Tina Smith, the state’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor.
The new junior senator from the Gopher State will serve in the Minnesota delegation alongside Amy Klobuchar. They will be the fourth all-female political pair in the Senate, joining Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington. All eight women are Democrats.
These women have come a long way. Even as recently as the late Clinton administration, the number of female U.S. Senators hovered in the single digits. The first few women senators, including Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas and Rose McConnell Long of Louisiana, were appointed after their husbands died and seen by party bosses as placeholders. Though the House of Representatives has had a female leader in former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, the Senate has never had a woman as majority leader. To date, just 50 women have served in the body.
While the women’s influence is felt across the entirety of the Senate—seven currently serve on the prestigious and traditionally male-dominated Armed Services Committee—Smith takes office as Congress is grappling with internal sexual harassment issues of its own. “Given what’s happened in the current moment, the issue of sexual assault …it’s just making all of this stand out even more,” Jean Sinzdak, associate director at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told Fortune.
Many experts say that the number of female congressional lawmakers could increase even further after next year’s midterm elections given the record number of women who have indicated interest in running for office. (That said, Smith, who was appointed to the seat, is said to be vulnerable to a Republican challenger when she seeks election next year and 11 of her other women colleagues will also have to face voters again in 2018.)
Meanwhile, the Center for American Women and Politics says that a record 79 women—49 Democrats and 30 Republicans—are poised to run for governor next year. If even half of those finally do run, that would break the past record of 34, set in 1994.
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