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A record number of Asian American lawmakers are headed to Congress

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. electorate.

By Amy Lieu - January 02, 2021
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Kai Kahele

A record number of Asian American and Pacific Islander lawmakers will be seated when the 117th United States Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3, 2021.

Twenty-one members of the historically underrepresented population were elected or reelected to the House of Representatives and the Senate on Nov. 3, marking the third session in a row in which a new record number of Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage will serve.

Increased participation by Asian Americans has also been seen in the electorate itself. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus noted that the group is the United States’ fastest-growing sector of voters. In the 2020 election, every swing state saw increased voter turnout by Asian Americans to a greater degree than by any other demographic, the Washington Post reported.

Analysis published by Democratic political strategist Tom Bonier found that in crucial battleground states President-elect Joe Biden won, such as Georgia and Arizona, the increase in the number of Asian American voters was greater than his margin of victory. Based on exit polling, the analysis found that Asian Americans favored Biden over Trump by a margin of nearly 2-1.

“From this dataset emerges perhaps one of the least heralded stories that might just stand as one of the most important electoral trends behind the results: an unprecedented surge in participation among Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters,” Bonier wrote.

The voting bloc also helped flip the 7th Congressional District in Georgia from red to blue, the only congressional district in the country Democrats took from the GOP in the 2020 election.

Asian and Pacific Islander Americans newly elected to the House of Representatives include Kai Kahele (D-HI), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Young Kim (R-CA), and Michelle Steel (R-CA).

Strickland, Kim, and Steel are the first Korean American women elected to the House.

Incumbent Asian American lawmakers reelected to the House include Democratic Rep. Judy Chu of California, the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress, in 2009, and chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus since 2011; Democratic Rep. Grace Meng, the first and only Asian American member of New York’s delegation; and Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, who will serve his fourth term in Congress and is the current whip of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Incumbents from U.S. territories reelected to the House are Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-Northern Mariana Islands), and Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam).

U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) won their races for reelection in November. Hirono was the first Asian American woman elected to the Senate, in 2013. Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Hirono, and Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California are currently the only three women of Asian descent in the Senate.

Previously, California Gov. Gavin Newsom was said to be considering Indian American Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) to replace Harris when she becomes vice president in late January. Newson ultimately chose his Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

This article was updated to correct Rep. Kai Kahele’s (D-HI) ethnicity from Asian American to Pacific Islander American and to note that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has since selected Alex Padilla to replace Sen. Kamala Harris.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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