SPRINGFIELD — A smaller, more Democratic Illinois congressional delegation was set to take office Tuesday in the nation’s capital as Republicans, who took narrow control of the House, struggled to elect one of their own speaker.
Illinois will be represented in Washington by 17 members of the House. The state has lost at least one congressional seat every ten years since the 1940s, when it had a 27-member delegation, due to slow population growth.
The delegation includes 14 Democrats and three Republicans, creating the largest Democratic majority since the height of the New Deal in the 1930s.
The three Republicans Illinois is sending to Washington — Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro; Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria; and Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland — are the fewest ever.
Former Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who gained a national profile as a critic of former President Donald Trump and a member of the Jan. 6 select committee, did not seek reelection. He was drawn into the same district as LaHood, in any case. Former Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, lost to Miller, who was supported by Trump, in a heated Republican primary last June.
Miller, a far right firebrand, was one of 19 Republicans on Tuesday who voted against House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Ca., for speaker. On the first two ballots, Miller voted for Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio.
Bost and LaHood, on the other hand, voted for McCarthy. As of Wednesday afternoon, a speaker had not been elected, bringing everything else, including the swearing in of new members, to a halt.
Four new members from Illinois were to be sworn in once a speaker is elected: Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield; Rep. Jonathan Jackson, D-Chicago; Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago; and Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-Moline.
Jackson succeeds former Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Chicago, and Sorensen succeeds former Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline while Budzinski and Ramirez won open seats.
They will join a House with a slim 222-213 Republican majority. It also includes a record number of women, Latinos and openly LGBTQ members.
Ramirez the first Latina congresswoman elected from Illinois while Sorensen is the first openly gay congressman elected from the state. Budzinski is the first woman to represent certain portions of central and southern Illinois.
“I think diversity and inclusion is positive and I think it brings in more fresh ideas, new ideas, new approaches — I think — to solving big problems,” Budzinski told Lee Enterprises in an interview hours before the new Congress convened. “And we have a lot of problems that need to be addressed in the 13th Congressional District, but (also) in this country.”
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In a way, Illinois Democrats ensured a different congressional makeup with their creative cartography skills, passing a gerrymandered map last year that created districts giving the party influence disproportionate to its vote share.
Budzinski and Sorensen’s districts connect several downstate urban areas, which are pockets of Democratic strength in what is otherwise a conservative region of the state, while Ramirez won a new Latino plurality district based in Chicago’s Northwest Side and western suburbs. The district was drawn to given Latinos, a group that increased in population over the past decade, the opportunity to elect a second Illinois member. From Bost to Budzinski, members say the first day of a new Congress is akin to the first day of school, filled with excitement and optimism as well as logistical tasks, from picking up their member pins and voting cards.
Budzinski, a former official in President Joe Biden and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administrations who also spent a decade working in the labor movement, is no stranger to government, but says serving as an elected official in her own right for the first time is “a tremendous honor.”
“I had a lot of unique opportunities to be behind the scenes and see a lot of different issues being negotiated,” Budzinski said. “And I think some of that experience and the work that I put in at the staff level will help inform and hopefully make me a great representative on the other side now as an elected official.”
Though she has not received committee assignments yet, Budzinski indicated agriculture and infrastructure as two areas of particular importance for her district, which stretches from East St. Louis to Champaign-Urbana.
Budzinski said she’s ready to get into the weeds on policy, hoping, for example, to work on the farm bill, the once-every-five years legislation that deals with everything from subsides for farmers to funding for food stamps.
“I am a workhorse, not a show horse,” Budzinski said.
Sorensen could not be reached for comment as of Tuesday afternoon.
On the other side of the Capitol rotunda, Sen. Tammy Duckworth was sworn in for her second six year term in the Senate. She returns after easily being reelected in November.
“Over the next six years, I will continue to support working families by helping lower everyday costs, create more good-paying local jobs and strengthen our economy at home and with global partners,” Duckworth said in a statement.
The Senate remains in Democratic control.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the no. 2 Democrat in the chamber, will continue to chair the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, giving him outsized influence on nominations to the federal bench.
Contact Brenden Moore at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @ brendenmoore13