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7 inspiring firsts for the 113th Congress

January 3, 2013, at 4:00 PM

With rock-bottom approval ratings and plenty of unfinished business from the 112th Congress, the newly sworn-in 113th Congress kicked off with a fresh start on Thursday.

There are 82 new members of the House of Representatives — 35 Republicans and 47 Democrats. In the upper chamber, there are 13 new senators — eight Democrats, four Republicans, and one independent.

Sen. Mark Kirk's (R-Ill.) inspiring return to the Senate, nearly a full year after suffering a massive stroke, set an uplifting tone for the day, but there were also a number of noteworthy firsts:

1. The Senate has a record-breaking 20 female senators — 4 Republicans and 16 Democrats.

2. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), appointed to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), became the first African American senator from the deep South since Reconstruction.

3. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hi.) is the first Buddhist senator.

4. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi.) is the first Hindu in either chamber.

5. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is the first openly gay senator.

6. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is the first openly bisexual member of either chamber.

7. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is the first female combat veteran in either chamber.

The big question is how this new group of lawmakers can overcome the poor reputation of Congress among the American people. The good news is that with only about 10 percent of Americans approving of their lawmakers, there's not much room left to go down.

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