CHICAGO — Three new Illinois Democrats will be sworn into Congress on Thursday, part of a blue wave that helped the party win the U.S. House and limited the state's tally of Republican lawmakers in Washington to five.
Registered nurse Lauren Underwood, 32, of Naperville will become the youngest black woman in U.S. history to serve in the House when she takes the oath. Clean-energy entrepreneur Sean Casten of Downers Grove, another political newcomer holding elected office for the first time, will join Underwood in representing vast swaths of suburban territory in Chicago's collar counties long held by Republicans. And Jesus "Chuy" Garcia of Chicago will replace longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who was a big voice on immigration issues.
And they take their seats at the Capitol amid ongoing partisan wars over President Donald Trump, his policies and a federal government shutdown that has closed government services across the country.
Democrats will now hold a 13-5 advantage over Republicans in the House, a key advantage with only one election left before Illinois could lose at least one of its 18 congressional seats because of population loss after the 2020 census.
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For the freshmen, the early days of their congressional careers are packed with training and administrative work, like setting up offices. Underwood on Wednesday tweeted about taking her first constituent call. Politics will always be nearby, though. Casten tweeted about a story on U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign, and Garcia on Wednesday endorsed a Chicago City Council opponent of the powerful Ald. Ed Burke.
Garcia won his 4th Congressional District race in November without much drama, after he emerged from a contested March primary in which Gutierrez endorsed him. He goes to the House four years after taking Mayor Rahm Emanuel to a runoff and declining to run for mayor this year.
Casten defeated Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton, whose congressional career included a stint on then-House Speaker John Boehner's leadership team and work on the Republican tax overhaul of 2017.
And Underwood overcame Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren of Plano, a low-key conservative who represented the 14th Congressional District since 2011.
Neither Roskam or Hultgren has held many public appearances since the November midterms nor have responded to requests for interviews.