Two congressional records will be broken when Virginia’s Jennifer McClellan is sworn in as a member of the House.
McClellan (D), who was elected Tuesday to fill the only empty seat in Congress, will bring the number of women in the 118th Congress up to 150, the largest number ever.
The attorney and 17-year state legislator also will be her state’s first Black woman representative.
“It’s an incredible honor to be the first, but it also is an incredible responsibility to ensure I’m not the last and that I am helping bring along the way other women of color behind me,” she said in an interview.
She defeated Republican pastor Leon Benjamin in a special election to succeed the late Donald McEachin (D). That result allows all 435 House seats to be filled for the first time since September 2019.
The full House will be temporary; Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said he will resign June 1 to become head of the Rhode Island Foundation.
McClellan, 50, once aspired to a background role in government; as a University of Virginia law student, she said she hoped to become a lawyer for the US Senate Judiciary Committee. Instead she entered private practice and then the public life of a lawmaker.
She elevated her political profile in 2021, running in the Democratic primary for governor and placing third for a nomination won by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated McAuliffe that fall.
In 2010, she became the first member of the Virginia House of Delegates to give birth while in office.
Her short House campaign focused on expanding access to health-care services and protecting voting rights, the environment, and abortion rights.
As she prepared to switch from a statehouse with divided government to a divided Congress, she said split control could lead to bipartisan deals on a new farm-and-food law, defense spending, mental-health policy, and infrastructure. “I don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good,” she said.
McEachin died in late November, three weeks after winning re-election. McClellan overwhelmingly won the Democratic nomination in a party-run “firehouse” primary held in December in the 4th District, where President Joe Biden won 67% of the vote in the 2020 election.
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