It is the crucible in which the wandering wishes of 315 million people, from Florida to Fairbanks, are shaped to the singular goal of national advancement. It is the United States Congress – verily a glorious institution – and on Wednesday it rang in a brand new session.
The 113th Congress comprises the most diverse batch in US history, with more women and minorities than ever before, more naturalized citizens and more non-Christians. It's being called a legislature that looks more like the country. Here is a brief who's who:
Twelve freshmen bring the balance of power to 55-45 favoring the Democrats, including two independents who will caucus with team blue.
Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts
She's done more than anyone to stop big banks from bullying consumers. Now she's joining the Banking Committee. She'll be the senior senator from Massachusetts when John Kerry goes to the State Department. Settle in for some Warren-watching.
Marco Rubio, R-Florida
Witness a man running for president? Rubio's name tops the GOP shortlist for 2016. Already since the November election he's taken two stands Republicans love: he voted against the fiscal cliff deal, and he slagged off Mitt Romney. What's Rubio next move?
Ted Cruz, R-Texas
The only Tea Partier whose father fought with Fidel Castro. Born in Canada of Cuban descent. A lawyer who's never held elective office. He clerked for former supreme court chief justice William Rehnquist. Not your father's GOP.
Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin
Served seven terms in the House. Edged out four-time Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson in November. First openly gay person elected to the Senate. Lifetime LGBT advocate and civil rights proponent. Winsome, popular.
Tim Scott, R-South Carolina
Slides over from the House. Replaces senator Jim DeMint, a Tea Party megaphone. The only current African American senator and the first ever African American senator from South Carolina.
Mark Kirk, R-Illinois
Elected in 2010, returns to the Senate after suffering a debilitating stroke in January 2012. He had to re-learn how to walk.
Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii
Three-term congresswoman. The first Buddhist and first Asian American woman in the Senate. Former lieutenant governor of Hawaii. Born in Japan.
Joe Lieberman, Democrat, and latterly independent of Connecticut; Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Richard Lugar, R-Indiana.
Eighty-four freshmen bring the balance of power to 234-201 favoring the Republicans, anticipating two special elections this spring: Jesse Jackson Jr, D-Illinois, has resigned; and Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, is headed for the Senate.
Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii
First Hindu and first American Samoan elected to Congress. Deployed with a Hawaiian national guard unit to Iraq in 2004 and to Kuwait in 2008. Born in 1981. Vegetarian.
Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois
Former US army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in combat in Iraq in 2004. Defeated an opponent who failed to pay child support and questioned her heroism. Born in Thailand. Served in the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
Joe Kennedy III, D-Massachusetts
Taking Barney Frank's seat. Born in 1980. Grandson of Robert Kennedy. Brings the Kennedy name back to the Congress after Patrick Kennedy, the son of his grandfather's brother, left the House in 2011. A lawyer.
Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona
First openly bisexual person elected to Congress. Active in environmental issues, women's rights, anti-poverty work. Shuns the label "atheist" but is believed to be a non-believer.
Patrick Murphy, D-Florida
Born in 1983, the youngest Congressman. Replaces Allen West, the distilled id of the Tea Party, who said the current president is "probably the dumbest person walking around in America" and who refused to concede the election for two weeks after his defeat. Welcome Patrick Murphy.
Ron Paul, R-Texas; Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, and Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
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