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McClellan sworn in as Virginia’s first Black woman member of Congress

She honored the late A. Donald McEachin, whose seat she filled following a special election

The newest member of the House, Rep. Jennifer McClellan of Virginia, takes the oath of office at a ceremonial swearing-in by Speaker Kevin McCarthy. With McClellan are her husband, David, and their children, Jackson and Samantha.
The newest member of the House, Rep. Jennifer McClellan of Virginia, takes the oath of office at a ceremonial swearing-in by Speaker Kevin McCarthy. With McClellan are her husband, David, and their children, Jackson and Samantha. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Jennifer McClellan choked back tears as she made history Tuesday night at her swearing-in, becoming the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress. 

Many of McClellan’s Democratic and Republican House colleagues gave the newest congresswoman a bipartisan standing ovation as Rep. Robert C. Scott, dean of the Virginia delegation, introduced McClellan, a Democrat who was flanked by her son and daughter.

“I know she will continue making history with her steadfast commitment to the 4th Congressional District, fighting for their voices to be heard in this chamber,” Scott said. “And I know she will also carry on the legacy of her predecessor, our dear late friend … Donald McEachin.”

McClellan, 50, is a former state legislator and lawyer who won a special election in February to fill McEachin’s seat. McEachin died of cancer on Nov. 28, weeks after winning a fourth term in Congress and after a yearslong battle with colorectal cancer. McClellan called him “a friend, mentor and colleague.”

“I stand on his shoulders,” she said during brief floor remarks, punctuated by frequent “woos” from her son, Jackson.

Virginia’s 4th District stretches south from Richmond to the state’s border with North Carolina.

McClellan easily beat Republican Leon Benjamin Sr., a Richmond pastor, in the Feb. 21 special election to fill McEachin’s seat. Her swearing-in brought the House to its full 435 members for the first time since September 2019, according to FiveThirtyEight. 

Like McEachin, McClellan has been a fixture in Virginia state politics. From 2006 to 2017, she served in the Virginia House of Delegates. In 2017, she won a special election to fill McEachin’s state Senate seat when he was elected to Congress.

McClellan was born in Petersburg, Va., a suburb of Richmond, and graduated from the University of Richmond with bachelor’s degrees in English and political science.

She earned her law degree at the University of Virginia and worked at Richmond-based firm Hunton & Williams and as regulatory counsel for the telecommunications company Verizon before embarking on a career in politics.

McClellan told CQ Roll Call in February that her priorities in the House will include reproductive rights and environmental justice. The self-described “pragmatic progressive” said she learned to work across the aisle during her time in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

“That’s where I learned if I’m ever going to get anything done, I need to understand where these white, male Republicans over 50 are coming from and why they believe what they believe, and I have to not be afraid to share my perspective,” she said in an interview.

McClellan took her oath with her right hand on a Bible that belonged to her parents, whose stories from the Great Depression, World War II and its aftermath, and the tumult of the 1960s instilled in her a sense of duty to her country.

“They saw the best of government in the New Deal,” McClellan said. “They saw the worst of government in Jim Crow. Their stories, and a love of history that they sparked in me, taught me at a young age that at its best, government is a force for helping people and solving problems. At its worst, the government is a force that oppresses some for the benefit of a few.

“Their stories sparked a desire to dedicate myself to making government by, of and for the people actually work for the people,” she continued.

Jackie Wang contributed to this report.

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