2018 - Lauren Underwood makes history, will be sworn in as youngest black woman elected to Congress
Democrat Lauren Underwood has become a familiar face on national TV news programs since she defeated Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren in last week’s midterm elections.
After toppling the longtime GOP incumbent, who just days before the election traveled more than 300 miles to accept President Donald Trump’s political embrace, Underwood has had appearances on NBC, MSNBC and CNN. But her victory in Illinois’ 14th Congressional District earned her another distinction — she made history, becoming the youngest black woman elected to Congress, according to congressional records.
When she gets sworn in Jan. 3, Underwood will be 32 years, 3 months old. Before Underwood, according to congressional records, U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas was the youngest black woman elected to Congress. Jordan was 36 years, 10 months, 14 days old when she was sworn in Jan. 3, 1973.
Illinois also elected the first black female senator, Carol Moseley Braun, in 1992. As she thanked volunteers at her campaign headquarters the day after the election, Underwood cited Braun as one of the people she looked up to as a young girl growing up in Naperville.
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“I felt like she was mine,” Underwood said. “She was on TV every day. I knew that she was from my state and she represented me. We also had Oprah Winfrey, and I felt like she was mine. And she came on twice a day, every day, and she filmed her show an hour away. And I felt like, if they can be the two most powerful black women in the world — when I was in elementary school, that’s probably true — I could do whatever I wanted. And I think what’s happened this year is that women across the country have seen that there’s a way to step forward and lead and that there are millions ready to support them.”
Underwood and Sean Casten, who flipped the neighboring Illinois 6th Congressional District into the Democrats’ column by defeating U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, are in Washington this week for orientation for new incoming House members. The wins in key swing districts by the two suburban political newcomers helped Democrats wrest control of the House from Republicans. The 14th Congressional District encompasses the far northern, western and southwestern suburbs and rural areas outside Chicago.
“I’m ready to get to work,” Underwood told campaign volunteers. “My team is thinking of ways that we can be back on the road in every community to figure out how to pull together this agenda so that when he get sworn in on Jan. 3, we are ready to be that voice. … This is not some kind of one-sided mission. This is all of us, together.”
The national media has taken notice of Underwood. She’s appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday and Rachel Maddow’s show the day after the election. She was on Tuesday night with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Cuomo Prime Time.”
Underwood is part of a diverse group of incoming representatives, including many women and first-time candidates. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, 29, will become the youngest woman elected upon taking the oath of office in January. The number of women in the U.S. House in the 116th Congress likely will be between 104 and 109, according to congressional tallies, with the total number dependent on the result of several still-undecided races.
Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s Ilhan Omar will be the first Muslim women in Congress in January.
Forty-one black women have served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, according to congressional records.
Omar, the country’s first Somali-American lawmaker, will be 36 years, 3 months old when she is sworn in, also younger than Jordan was at the time she joined the U.S. House. The youngest person elected to the U.S. House is William Charles Claiborne of Tennessee, who was 22 when he joined the House in 1797. Claiborne later served as the governor of Louisiana and as a senator from the state.
The new job is a big opportunity for Underwood, who made health care the central pillar of her campaign. The former staffer in the Department of Health and Human Services under then-President Barack Obama highlighted Hultgren’s vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act during the campaign and showcased her health policy expertise during debates and meetings with voters. With health care cited by voters nationwide as the top election issue, according to exit polling, Underwood could be in a position to capitalize on the history-making nature of her win and the national attention as she attempts to build her political profile.
But keeping her seat in the former Republican stronghold, a district that is 87 percent white, might not be easy. To do it, she’ll have to appeal to Republicans who still make up a majority of the district and navigate two years of tough votes and a controversial president.
After the election, Trump criticized Republican lawmakers, including Roskam, who lost their midterm elections after distancing themselves from the president, saying “Peter Roskam didn’t want the embrace.” He made no mention of Hultgren, however, who appeared onstage with him at an Oct. 27 rally in Downstate Murphysboro.