WASHINGTON — A record number of women were elected last week to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. When the new Congress convenes in January, there will be about 80 female members of the House, and 20 female members of the Senate - most of them Democrats.
House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi held a news conference on Wednesday, where she stood surrounded by a large group of women - current and newly elected members of the House. She pointed out that for the first time in history of the House, Democratic women and minorities outnumber their white male counterparts.
"The most diverse caucus in the history of the world - the first time that a parliamentary body would have a party who had a majority of women and minorities," Pelosi said.
Pelosi said the fact that so many Democratic women won seats in the November elections was a factor in her decision on whether to step down as Democratic leader, which she announced surrounded by colleagues she called her "sisters."
"And I have made a decision to submit my name, to my colleagues, to once again serve as the House Democratic Leader," she said.
Pelosi served two terms as speaker of the House, the first woman in the United States to serve as speaker, and she oversaw passage of President Barack Obama's health care reform legislation.
In the new Senate, 20 percent of the 100 lawmakers will be women - 16 Democrats and four Republicans. And once all of the ballots are counted, as many as 19 Republican women could be sworn in into the House in January.
One of the newly elected members of the House, Democrat Lois Frankel of Florida says she believes women govern differently than men because of their role as the primary caregivers for children and elderly parents.
"I think we do bring a different perspective because, for many of us like myself, we have raised our family and mixed it with work," she said.
Jess McIntosh is a spokesperson for Emily's List, an organization that works to elect Democratic women to Congress. She says studies show that women in positions of power are more likely to compromise, which could be crucial with a potential budget crisis facing the United States.
"In this time when politics is so polarizing and it is so hard to find consensus, I think having women who tend to be really good collaborators in the legislature is only going to be a good thing for the country," McIntosh said.
Political scientist Jennifer Lawless of American University in Washington says she is happy that women are being empowered in Congress. But she says there is room for progress because women make up 50 percent of the population and are still under-represented in federal elective offices.