Across the Capitol today, dozens of new members will be found placing new lapel pins on their suits, getting lost in the basement's winding corridors, and cracking a smile when Vice President Joe Biden inevitably kisses the cheeks of their mothers. Still, every incoming class has a few standouts, and the 114th Congress is no exception. Here are the members to watch for the next two years.
Mia Love: The first African-American Republican woman elected to Congress, Love has already made history before even casting her first vote on the House floor. From Utah's 4th District, the 39-year-old Love came back in 2014 and won a race she lost narrowly in 2012. In some ways, Love is a classic freshman conservative: a member who made repealing and replacing Obamacare a centerpiece of her campaign. But Love will be worth watching, especially if she steps in to help the GOP navigate its relationship with minority voters ahead of 2016. If she manages to be the face of the GOP's effort, she will also have to balance the wishes of her tea-party supporters with the political acumen that is needed if she hopes to one day be a serious national player.
Although she ran in 2012 and 2014 as a conservative firebrand, Love has been quick to align herself with her House leaders. In an appearance on ABC's This Week over the past weekend, Love came out in support of embattled House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who is under scrutiny after it was reported he spoke to white-supremacist group back in 2002. Instead of calling for Scalise to step down, Love noted that it was "interesting" that the issue was rearing its head 12 years after the fact. She went on to say that Scalise shouldn't resign from House leadership like some have called on him to do.
"I believe he should remain in leadership. There's one quality that he has that I think is very important in leadership, and that's humility," Love said. "And he's actually shown that in this case. And he's apologized, and I think that we need to move on and get the work of the American people done."
(Interactive: Meet the New Members of the 114th Congress)
Cory Gardner: The former House member from Colorado ran the stand-out Senate campaign of 2014. Joining the race late, Gardner was able to oust first-term Sen. Mark Udall by rebranding himself as a moderate Republican who was open to giving immigrants a path to legalization and giving women over-the-counter birth control.
While he wasn't a particularly news-making lawmaker during his tenure in the House, Gardner is likely to play a bigger role in the new Republican-controlled Senate if he assumes the part of the deal-making pragmatist that he sold to voters during his campaign. While Gardner once represented Colorado's 4th District, the conservative eastern section of the state, he now represents a much more diverse constituency, and that means his priorities will likely shift. Because 14 percent of voters in Colorado are Latino, Gardner may dig in and tackle some of the tough issues, like immigration.
He's a Republican senator now from one of the swingiest states in the country, a place that will no doubt be a major battleground in 2016. To keep constituents happy, Gardner will have to find a way to bridge the political middle ground with some of his Democratic colleagues.
Gardner will have quite a bit of leverage as he enters the upper chamber. He will serve on the Foreign Relations Committee as Congress continues to debate the best strategy to dismantle ISIS in Syria and Iraq, normalize relations with Cuba, and stop the centrifuges from spinning in Iran. He will also serve on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where he will no doubt spend considerable time fighting for the construction of the Keystone Pipeline and promoting the natural-gas industry, a key economic driver in his state.
Joni Ernst: If her jaw-dropping political ad on castrating pigs is any indication, you can add Ernst to the growing cast of pork-slashing, rabble-rousing senators who could be a thorn in the side of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. What makes Ernst different, however, is that unlike Ted Cruz in 2012, the former Iowa state senator was an early favorite of the GOP establishment. She came out swinging by outworking other primary candidates on the trail and winning the hearts and minds of both moderate Republicans and conservative voters across the state of Iowa.
What will be worth paying close attention to is whether Ernst rushes toward the conservative spotlight like Cruz did or takes her time adjusting to the national political scene. So far, The Des Moines Register reports that Ernst has been avoiding some of the big national news outlets as she settles into her new role. But, on the campaign trail, her early rhetoric indicated that even if she starts quietly, Ernst is likely to be a much-welcomed reinforcement for some of the tea-party-backed senators. While campaigning, a video captured Ernst saying that Obama should face "repercussions" for acting unilaterally "whether that's removal from office, whether that's impeachment." She later said she had not seen evidence that Obama should be impeached.
Ernst, the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate, will also have a lot to contribute on her committees. She will sit on the Homeland Security Committee and the Armed Services Committee. In December, Ernst made her first major move on foreign policy. She visited Israel in December and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
She also will serve on the Senate's agriculture and small business committees.
Ken Buck: The newly minted House member from Colorado holds the role of GOP freshman class president and will play a key part in setting the tone for the relationship between the expanding Republican majority and its leadership in upcoming months. To be clear, freshman class president is not an automatic path to power in Congress; the GOP's freshman president in the 113th Congress was Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana.
Buck, who earned a reputation as a hard-line conservative in 2010 during his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, still is opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and incest and in a recent interview with Roll Call, which aired on C-SPAN, he questioned whether failing to raise the country's debt limit would really be a financial calamity. In his new role, however, Buck has also signaled he's prepared to make some concessions to get Washington working again.
"I just think it's so important that we approach this job as problem-solvers, not partisans," Buck said on Sunday.
Buck, a former district attorney, had sought to run for the Senate against Sen. Mark Udall in 2014 until Gardner jumped in the race. Buck bowed out and chose to run for Gardner's seat instead.
Buck's first major test as freshman president will come Tuesday afternoon when House Republicans cast votes to elect the House speaker. While Boehner is expected to keep his job without much trouble, a handful of Republicans, including Iowa Republican Steve King and Florida Republican Ted Yoho, have said they will vote against him.
Buck has been at the center of a fight over reelecting Speaker Boehner. Buck told CNN this week he had not heard from Boehner, but he did say he had talked with some members who had expressed doubts about Boehner's ability to lead.
Elise Stefanik: At 30, Stefanik is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and she already has caught the attention of Speaker Boehner, who campaigned for her in 2014. Even before Stefanike won her seat to represent New York's 21st District, Boehner tapped her to deliver the weekly Republican address in October. That spot earned her national attention and a boost in a race where she already was far ahead of her Democratic competition. Stefanik addressed her desire to dismantle Obamacare, which she said had adversely affected her family's plywood business.
Boehner is not the only person who has noticed Stefanik. She also earned the endorsement of Mitt Romney in 2014.
On Capitol Hill, Stefanik will serve as a barometer for progress within the GOP, not only for the party's ability to connect with younger voters, but for its capacity to reach out to women. In 2014, there were only 19 women in the House Republican Conference. In the 114th Congress only one of them, Candice Miller, R-Mich., will get to chair a committee.
While Stefanik recently moved home and worked for her family's business before running for her new seat, she got her start in politics working for the George W. Bush administration. She also worked as a policy adviser to 2012 Republican presidential contender Tim Pawlenty and managed debate prep for 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
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