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President Donald Trump spoke to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017. (USA Today) President Donald Trump spoke to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017. (USA Today)

President Donald Trump spoke to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017. (USA Today)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher April 28, 2017

Diversity in Congress: Democrats have women and minorities, Republicans have white men over 55?

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president and again after his inauguration, it was reported that the 115th Congress, which was seated in January 2017, is the most racially diverse in history.

So we wondered if U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan was correct when he painted a different picture in Metro Weekly, a Washington, D.C. publication that serves the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning) community.

Asked in the April 7, 2017 article whether "underrepresented groups, either minorities or women or LGBTQ people," will get more politically active, Pocan said he hoped so.

The Wisconsin Democrat also recited a quote he attributed to the late Ann Richards, a Democrat who was the governor of Texas before George W. Bush: "If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re likely on the menu." And then he said:

When you look at the floor of Congress, it’s especially telling. On the Democratic side of the room, you’ve got men and women of all different races. On the other side, you’ve got a bunch of white men in dark suits, all over 55 or so. It’s such a contrast. That’s not representative of the country. We really need to get people making sure that everyone has a voice.

What we found is Pocan is largely on target, in that Democrats are more diverse, although there are more than older white men among Republicans.

Gender diversity

We’ll tackle Pocan’s claim in three parts. We base our analysis primarily on a March 2017 report on the current makeup of the House and Senate by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which provides policy and legal analysis for Congress. Taking into account vacancies and independents, it lists 289 Republicans and 239 Democrats among the 535 voting members of the two chambers.

The first part of Pocan’s claim is about women. The report shows that Democrats, even though they are outnumbered by Republicans, have three times more women in the two chambers.

Democratic women

Republican women

78

26

 
That being said, the 78 Democratic women represent about one-third of all Democrats in Congress. That’s less representative of the population as a whole, which is roughly half female. But women make up only 9 percent of Republicans in Congress.

Racial diversity

The contrast is even greater for racial diversity. Democrats have nearly six times more minority members than the Republicans.

Minority*

Democrats

Republicans

African-American

48

3

Hispanic/Latino

30

13

Asian/Indian/Pacific Islander

16

0

Total

94

16

*Some members are counted in more than one category

The 94 Democrats who are minorities comprise 39 percent of all Democrats in Congress. That’s as representative as the 38 percent of the U.S. population that is nonwhite Hispanic and other racial minorities. The 16 minority Republicans represent only 5.5 percent of all GOP members.

White men over 55

The Congressional Research Service report does not provide a breakdown to check the third part of Pocan’s claim -- that Republicans in Congress are dominated by white men over age 55.

But LegiStorm, a company that researches Congress, provides a close approximation. Its data shows that two-thirds of the Republican members of Congress (compared to about 40 percent of Democrats) are white males age 50 and over.

Two parting notes from analyses done by the nonprofit Pew Research Center, which show women and minorities making gains in Congress as a whole:

  • Gender: The share of women in Congress has reached an all-time high: Women now hold 104 seats, or 19 percent.

  • Race: Congress remains disproportionately white when compared with the U.S. population, but is becoming more representative: Minorities account for 20 of 59 (34 percent) of the new members elected in November 2016.

Our rating

Pocan said: In Congress, "on the Democratic side of the room, you’ve got men and women of all different races; on the other side, you’ve got a bunch of white men in dark suits, all over 55 or so."

Democrats have several times more women and several times more minorities than Republicans do in the House and Senate combined. And older white males are much more predominant among Republicans. At the same time, fully one-third of GOP members are not while males over 50.

For a statement that is accurate but needs additional information, our rating is Mostly True.

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Mostly True
In Congress, "on the Democratic side of the room, you’ve got men and women of all different races; on the other side, you’ve got a bunch of white men in dark suits, all over 55 or so."
In an interview
Friday, April 7, 2017

Our Sources

Metro Weekly, "Congressional Wisdom: An interview with Wisconsin Representative Mark Pocan," April 7, 2017

Email, Mark Pocan communications director David Kolovson, April 20, 2017

The Hill, "115th Congress will be most racially diverse in history," Nov. 17, 2016

Pew Research Center, "115th Congress sets new high for racial, ethnic diversity," Jan. 24, 2017

Pew Research Center, "The changing face of Congress in 5 charts," Feb. 2, 2017

DiversityInc, "The 115th Congress Not a Model for Diversity," Jan. 4, 2017

Congressional Research Service, "Membership of the 115th Congress: A Profile," March 13, 2017

U.S. News & World Report, "The 115th Congress by Party, Race, Gender and Religion," Jan. 5, 2017," Jan. 5, 2017

LegiStorm, "The 115th Congress by the numbers," accessed April 25, 2017

Roll Call, "Party Diversity Gap to Remain in 115th," Nov. 17, 2016

U.S. Census, "QuickFacts," accessed April 27, 2017

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Diversity in Congress: Democrats have women and minorities, Republicans have white men over 55?

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