Nothing tops the first day of school.

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Congress Deserves a Hug Today

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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As a Congress lover, I’m a big fan of its Opening Day. I enjoy watching (thanks, C-SPAN!) the sharp contrast between the raucous swearing-in on the House side and the formal ceremonies in the Senate, where only four members at a time are sworn in. The House does it all at once, and it's fun to see which members are taking it seriously, which are blasé and which are so distracted chasing their children around that they barely notice the big moment.

The vote for House speaker is a spectacle too, more so since the loosening of absolute party unity in recent years (even though I don’t expect any actual news to break out). There’s also real business in the House, with the adoption of some new rules (and see Don Wolfensberger of Roll Call for the history of adopting the rules and some suggestions for how it should be done).

Pew has a nice page on the religious affiliation of the new Congress. And Brookings makes the point that baby boomers continue to dominate in both houses. The Fix has more on Congressional demographics, including gender and ethnicity.

Two big absences: The World War II veterans are gone, and so are the Watergate babies, the incredibly productive members first elected in 1975, at least in the House (Patrick Leahy remains in the Senate).

As for Newt Gingrich's revolutionaries, only five Republicans remain in the House from the class of 1995. My favorite statistic on the 114th Congress? As many Democrats remain from that 1995 class as Republicans, despite the Republican landslide in 1994.

The most notable trend continues to be turnover. Fewer than half of the 435 members of the House were in office when George W. Bush was president. In the Senate, only 46 remain of those who served when Bush was in the White House. And only 35 senators, 20 of them Republicans, were in the Senate when the Republicans last had the majority in 2006. 

For all the contempt and even hatred it receives, some deserved and some just a quirk of American political culture, our transformative Congress and its state-level counterparts are the key to a robust U.S. democracy. So if you can, tune in today and watch the ceremony -- it's worth taking a little time to celebrate it.  

  1. That’s continuous service in the House only. Three 1995 Republicans (and one 1975 Democrat) have returned to the House after leaving it. 

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