Underwood, Casten make history in Washington and in the suburbs

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, poses during a ceremonial swearing-in with Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville, second from right, and her family on Capitol Hill Thursday in Washington during the opening session of the 116th Congress.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, poses during a ceremonial swearing-in with Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville, second from right, and her family on Capitol Hill Thursday in Washington during the opening session of the 116th Congress. Associated Press

  • From left, Lauren Underwood, a Naperville Democrat; Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat; and Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, gather Thursday during the swearing-in ceremony of Congressional Black Caucus members at The Warner Theatre in Washington.

    From left, Lauren Underwood, a Naperville Democrat; Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat; and Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, gather Thursday during the swearing-in ceremony of Congressional Black Caucus members at The Warner Theatre in Washington. Associated Press

  • New congressman Sean Casten, a Downers Grove Democrat, was ceremonially sworn in with new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, second from left, and his family Thursday in Washington.

    New congressman Sean Casten, a Downers Grove Democrat, was ceremonially sworn in with new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, second from left, and his family Thursday in Washington. Associated Press

 
 

Two new suburban members of the U.S. House, Lauren Underwood and Sean Casten, made history on several fronts Thursday when they took the oath of office.

It marked the beginning of the suburbs' time being represented in Congress entirely by Democrats. It was the first inauguration to take place with the government partially closed. And Underwood, 32, became the youngest black woman to serve in Congress.

Casten, a Downers Grove scientist and clean energy entrepreneur, and Underwood, a Naperville nurse and health policy expert, joined other new members of the 116th Congress who were sworn after the House elected Democrat Nancy Pelosi to her second stint as speaker.

Their inaugurations came before the House planned to pass legislation aimed at fully reopening the government. But Senate action on any House funding bills seemed doubtful.

None of that was lost on Casten and Underwood as they rose to the positions voters gave them in November, when Casten ousted longtime Republican Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton in the 6th District and Underwood defeated longtime Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren of Plano in the 14th.

Casten called the experience of taking the oath of office "an awesome feeling of history and hope and duty" in a written statement his office released Thursday afternoon. With his two daughters by his side, Casten, 47, said he felt the "magnitude of the midterm elections" that brought him into a position to govern and "the power Americans possess to change their own government."

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Taking office during the shutdown's 13th day, as President Donald Trump continued demands for money to build a border wall along the U.S. boundary with Mexico, Casten said he recognizes the significance of the spending bills that keep the government running. He called them some of the "most fundamental" pieces of legislation Congress must pass.

"Little did I imagine that, on the day I took the oath of office for the very first time, among the very first votes I would cast would be to pass essential funding bills to reopen government agencies shuttered by the president," Casten said in his statement.

Casten said he will "stand against the divisive politics emanating from this White House and vote to put workers back on the job, serving the public."

He also said he hopes to take action soon on some of his policy priorities, including addressing climate change, promoting health care accessibility and affordability, ensuring protections for the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community, and enacting sensible gun regulations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On the same day the new Congress was sworn in, lawmakers approved a Democratic rules package that included provisions written by Underwood. One rule change prohibits using nondisclosure agreements to keep current or former congressional staffers from reporting wrongdoing to the Office of Compliance, the House Ethics Committee or the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Another provision extends a ban on sexual relationships between House members and their staffs to include relationships between House members and staff members of committees on which the congressmen serve.

"In the Democratic Majority, when the American people have elected the most diverse Congress with more women serving than ever before, we are demonstrating a commitment to conducting the business of our Nation with the highest standards of ethics and decency," Underwood said in a statement.

"My contributions to this legislation will prevent abuse, harassment, intimidation, threats, and discrimination that would be illegal in other workplaces. Survivors have told us how nondisclosure agreements have been misused to silence survivors and witnesses. 'Time's Up' has come to the halls of Congress."

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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