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Ten Fresh Faces to Watch in the New Congress
Some will become household names, and some may be doomed to a quick re-election defeat or to toil away in anonymity. But every two years, new freshmen members of Congress descend on Capitol Hill, representing the country's changing landscape with their politics and their life stories.
The new ranks will be flush with record-breakers when they arrive in Washington. The 113th Congress will welcome the first openly gay senator, the first Asian-American woman in the Senate and first bisexual member of Congress. A new Latino senator -- one of just three -- is already snagging headlines for voicing a new vision of the Republican party. A record-breaking 20 women will serve in the upper chamber, and 78 will be seated in the United States House. Sixteen new members served in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Four new LGBT individuals were elected, almost doubling the number of openly gay lawmakers on the Hill.
While the whims of a 24-hour news cycle can elevate any fresh face at the drop of a hat -- or the click of a tweet -- here's a first look at 10 interesting new people to watch as the 113th Congress convenes.
TED CRUZ, R-Tex.
Even before being sworn in, newly elected Texas senator Ted Cruz grabbed headlines last week when he delivered a wide-ranging speech about the future of the GOP, coining "opportunity conservativism" to describe his vision for a Republican rebranding.
Cruz, a Cuban-American whose support from Tea Party groups propelled him to victory over Texas Lt. Gov David Dewhurst in a July primary, said in remarks at an American Principles Project event that Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comment should have been flatly disavowed by conservatives.
"We embraced in that comment, and in the narrative we made to this country, the Democrat notion that there is a fixed and static pie," he said. "The essence of the conservative message should be we want a dynamic nation where anybody with nothing can achieve anything."
Look for Cruz, one of just three Latino senators, to join colleague Marco Rubio as an influential voice in Republican soul-searching over their the party's drubbing with minority voters in the 2012 election.
HEIDI HEITKAMP, D-N.D.
The daughter of a school custodian, Heidi Heitkamp once spent a summer working on a highway construction crew to put herself through school. The Democrat served as North Dakota's attorney general and as the executive of an energy company before scoring an upset win last month over Republican Senate candidate Rick Berg.
The onetime director of Dakota Gasification Company, which operates a plant that turns coal into natural gas, Heitkamp is squarely at odds with her party's own standard bearer on energy issues. Asked during a campaign forum what she would tell President Barack Obama about the nation's energy policy, she flatly stated that the administration is "wrong."
"You're wrong on energy. You're headed in the wrong direction. You made bad decisions," she said, according to The Associated Press. "You promised that you would promote clean coal technologies, that you would be a champion of coal, and you haven't done it." She also urged the president to replace Energy Secretary Steven Chu and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.
TAMMY BALDWIN, D-Wis.
Tammy Baldwin would have made history just as the first female senator from Wisconsin, but she captured the national spotlight as the first openly gay person ever elected to the United States Senate. Although she is a longtime advocate of LGBT rights, Baldwin's sexual orientation never became a major issue in her bitter race against former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, which racked up a $65 million advertising bill between the two candidates.
Before her Senate run, Baldwin served seven terms in the House, sitting on the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as earlier stints on the bodies that cover judiciary and budget matters.
In 2009, she authored a legislative amendment requiring that insurance companies allow children to stay on their parents' insurance plans until age 26, one of the more enduringly popular pieces of the Obama administration's health-care law. And with her swearing-in still weeks away, she has already jumped into the fray on the ongoing fiscal cliff talks, urging the president to adopt the "Buffett Rule," which would tax Americans with incomes over $1 million at a minimum 30 percent effective tax rate.
ANGUS KING, I-Maine
As the dust settled from the 2012 election, all eyes in Washington briefly turned to the mustachioed new senator from the deep blue state of Maine.
Angus King, the state's first independent to be elected to the Senate, had not formally indicated during his three-way race whether he would caucus with Democrats or Republicans for purposes of organization. On Nov. 14, King -- who served two terms as the state's independent governor -- announced that he would align with Democrats.
In a statement, King said he considered forgoing any formal alliance with either party but that Senate rules would render him dramatically less effective to his constituents as a truly unaffiliated member of the body because of seniority. "I have decided to affiliate with the Democratic Caucus because doing so will allow me to take independent positions on issues as they arise and at the same time be an effective representative of the people of Maine," he said.
With his pledges to work across the aisle, King would join a long lineage of Maine legislators who fashioned themselves as compromise-minded moderates. His predecessor, Republican Olympia Snowe, was one of only three GOP senators to support the Obama stimulus package in 2009 and voted to confirm both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court.
ELIZABETH WARREN. D-Mass.
A longtime thorn in the side of Wall Street's big banks, Elizabeth Warren first earned a national profile when foes successfully campaigned against her appointment to the directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog body that she masterminded.
Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who helped oversee the bank bailout, has used blunt rhetoric to paint banks as remorseless perpetrators of the financial crisis. "Wall Street CEOs -- the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs -- still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them," she said during her speech at the Democratic National Convention.
In November, Warren defeated Republican Senator Scott Brown, who rose to national prominence when he won the seat formerly held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in a special 2010.
TAMMY DUCKWORTH, D-Ill.
An Iraq War helicopter pilot who lost both legs in a 2004 grenade attack, Tammy Duckworth will walk the halls of Congress on prosthetic limbs. After defeat in a 2006 run, Duckworth won her second bid for the U.S. House by defeating Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party devotee, in the state's newly redrawn 8th District.
In what she describes as her "bonus time" after the attack that could have left her for dead, Duckworth has championed the rights of disabled veterans, serving as an assistant secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs in the Obama administration.
Duckworth advocates for some cuts to military spending, a position that frequently earns her fellow Democrats the label of "weak on national security." But as a Purple Heart recipient with a high profile and a long family history of military service, she will be a visible advocate for the paring down of the defense budget while enjoying relative immunity from Republicans wary of questioning her record.
Not that Duckworth is a shrinking violet from the harder edge of politics. "There's nothing anyone can say to me or do to me -- short of actually pointing a gun and shooting at me -- that's going to be as bad as it was in Iraq and that year I spent recovering," she recently told NBCNews.com in an interview. "So it's really freeing."
KYRSTEN SINEMA, D-Ariz.
Fresh off a nasty campaign in which opponents painted her as a hippie who enjoys the occasional "pagan ritual," Arizona freshman Kyrsten Sinema is no stranger to tough campaigns. The first openly bisexual member of Congress, Sinema -- who served as an Arizona state house member and senator -- can also boast leading a 2006 effort to defeat a same-sex marriage ballot initiative in Arizona.
The 36-year-old social worker, who once quipped that she's a "Prada socialist" in a magazine interview, jousted with Gov. Jan Brewer on education issues during her tenure in the legislature, warranting a hefty contribution from the governor's political action committee to Sinema's opponents. Education policy, jobs, and addressing foreclosures will be her top priorities as a federal lawmaker.
Sinema's spokesman recently told The New York Times that the new congresswoman, who was raised a Mormon, supports a "secular approach" to government.
TED YOHO, R-Fla.
The country met Ted Yoho this year through his hogs. A large animal veterinarian in north central Florida, the conservative won national attention for a quirky ad that featured piggy-looking "career politicians" in business suits feeding at a trough alongside real porkers.
Yoho, a proponent of the consumption-based Fair Tax, has said that he won't be put into political "handcuffs" by signing anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist's pledge. "If you sign a pledge like [Norquist's], you've got handcuffs on," he told NPR.
The upset winner of a primary against 12-term incumbent Rep. Cliff Stearns, Yoho imitated NFL player Tim Tebow's prayerful victory kneel for supporters after his win.
He has promised constituents that he will serve no longer than eight years in Congress.
MARKWAYNE MULLIN, R-Okla.
When his father's illness forced Markwayne Mullin to quit college and take over the family plumbing business, the 20-year-old and his wife turned a flailing enterprise into a small eastern Oklahoma empire. Mullin, now 35, won the House seat vacated by retiring Rep. Dan Boren, running under the banner "A rancher. A businessman. Not a politician!"
The Tulsa native -- a social conservative who vehemently opposes "amnesty" proposals -- has promised to take a no-frills attitude to the halls of Congress. Casually dressed on election night, he joked with supporters that he defied his campaign staff's request that he wear a suit to deliver his victory speech. "They got me this far, and boots are going to take me all the way there and bring me all the way back" from Washington, he said.
SEAN PATRICK MALONEY, D-N.Y.
A former senior adviser in President Bill Clinton's administration, Sean Patrick Maloney also worked as a staffer for New York governors Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson before mounting his own political run.
Maloney unseated Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth in a New York's redrawn 18th District.
The first openly gay New York congressman, Maloney and his partner Randy Florke have three adopted children together.
Maloney once told New York Magazine that his hero is fictional lawyer Atticus Finch and came in third in New York's 2006 Democratic primary for attorney general.
ALAN GRAYSON, D-Fla.
Alan Grayson, the quotable liberal firebrand whose zippy insults served as cable catnip during his previous stint in Congress, will be back on the Hill again next year. After losing his 2010 re-election bid, Grayson moved to a new Orlando district and sailed to victory this year over Republican Todd Long.
The man who disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner once labelled as "one fry short of a happy meal," has garnered frequent outrage for his rhetorical bombs. He was forced to apologize after referring to a banking lobbyist as a "K Street whore"; he said Florida Gov. Rick Scott would have "blood on his hands" if he did not implement some parts of the health-care plan; and he accused Republicans of offering only the health-care proposal that sick people should "die quickly."
He was roundly beaten by Republican Daniel Webster in 2010 but will return having won by a 25 point margin in a redrawn district.
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