The incoming class of freshman to the 114th Congress is composed of lawmakers with backgrounds that are lighter in legislative experience than the majority of their colleagues, many with their own distinct paths to power.
"The era of the resume candidate is pretty much over," Paul Light, a public policy professor at New York University, told The Wall Street Journal
"The voter isn't saying my goodness — this candidate didn't go to law school," he said, adding that "something bigger is going on underneath the surface, and we'll wake up 10 years from now and say, wow, a lot of things have really changed."
A number of the candidates elected ran on anti-incumbent platforms, pitching themselves as Washington outsiders. This will present a challenge to the leadership trying to corral members behind a common agenda.
In addition, Congress is entering a period when political inexperience is a notable characteristic of lawmakers. Many come without legislative experience at lower levels of government, and of the seven Senate freshmen coming from the House, just one, West Virginia GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, has had a long tenure in the House. The other six members served for three terms or less.
By contrast, in the last Congress, senators who moved from the House had an average tenure of 4½ terms before being elected to the upper chamber.
"The question is whether losing those types and having a more inexperience, younger body — does that harm Congress?" Sarah Binder, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told the Journal.
"Of course, Congress wasn't doing much, so having all those experienced members wasn't sufficient to overcome the extreme ideological positions that have really polarized the place."
The average age of lawmakers is also slightly lower than in the past, and includes 30-year-old New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, the Journal noted.
"There's a natural tension between longer-run experience and shorter-term public-opinion shifts," North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry, chief deputy whip who was elected as the youngest member of the House in 2005, told the Journal.
"The tension should be a healthy one, so you get smarter laws because of experience and you respond to the American people because of new energy."
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