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Democratic women stress House freshman class diversity

News conference follows closed-door meeting with VP at party retreat

Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, speaks during House Minority Whip Katherine Clark’s news conference with freshman women of the 118th Congress at the House Democrats 2023 Issues Conference in Baltimore on Thursday.
Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, speaks during House Minority Whip Katherine Clark’s news conference with freshman women of the 118th Congress at the House Democrats 2023 Issues Conference in Baltimore on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

BALTIMORE — Democratic women in the House freshmen class that Rep. Jill Tokuda of Hawaii called “our sisterhood” came together Thursday in Baltimore as part of their caucus held its annual retreat.

After Vice President Kamala Harris headlined a closed meeting at the party conference, Minority Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts shared highlights with reporters. She said the vice president spoke about foreign and domestic priorities, including her recent trip to the Munich Security Conference, which preceded President Joe Biden’s unannounced trip to Ukraine.

Clark said the vice president discussed “how she and President Biden had been working to reassure our allies and NATO that we are here, that our presence in Ukraine is about knowing that when we are helping them defend their democracy, we are helping build our own.”

“And she went on to talk about the very local which drives her, whether that’s her work with small businesses, making sure our main streets are thriving, to our discussion on reproductive justice,” Clark said.

Clark was joined at her news conference by freshman women members of the 118th Congress, and she argued that people need to broaden what they think of as “women’s issues.” “There is no economy without women. There is no climate justice without women. There is no criminal justice without women,” Clark said.

Among the new members joining Clark was Rep. Jasmine Crockett, who succeeded retired fellow Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in a Dallas-based district. Crockett was among the Black freshmen to highlight the varied experiences and backgrounds of the caucus.

“What I believe in as a civil rights lawyer is that we must embrace our diversity. The Speaker Emeritus [Nancy Pelosi] always says our diversity is our strength, and our unity is our power. And I absolutely believe that you are looking at the most diverse class of freshmen that we’ve ever had in the history of the Congress,” Crockett said. “You’re looking at more Black women … being elected to Congress than we’ve ever seen.”

Abortion rights and environmental protection were recurring themes as the members spoke. 

Of 33 Democrats first elected in November, 14 are women, including four each who are Black or Hispanic and one who is Asian. The class includes some firsts. Rep. Becca Balint is the first woman to represent Vermont. Also joining the retreat was Rep.-elect Jennifer McClellan, who last month won a special election in a Richmond-based district and will be the first Black woman ever sent to Congress from Virginia. 

“I grew up listening to my parents tell stories of their life where they saw the best of government in the New Deal and the worst of government in Jim Crow,” McClellan said. “That’s what took me to the Virginia General Assembly a few years ago, where I quickly learned that in this government by and for the people, the perspectives of the people that are in the chamber making the laws will be heard and the perspective of those diverse faces, or lack thereof, will determine whose needs are met.”

Ryan Kelly contributed to this report.

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