Meet the 6 Arab Americans Sworn into the 118th Congress This Past Week
By: Salma Heram / Arab America Contributing Writer
Six Arab Americans were sworn into the 118th Congress this past week – all of which now hold in the U.S. House of Representatives. First preceded by George A. Kasem of California in 1959, these six members of Congress are a bipartisan group, with diverse interests and values. They represent five states: California, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, and, of course, Michigan. As for their Arab heritage, these six members hail from Lebanon, Palestine, and Somalia. While some are much more well-known in the Arab American community than others, it is nonetheless noteworthy to realize that all have taken office after running successfully for reelection. So, who are these six representatives, and how did they get to the highest legislative offices in our country?
1. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA16)
Representing California’s 16th Congressional District as a member of the Democratic Party, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo is of Assyrian descent. Of the six Arab members of Congress, she is the longest serving, having represented California since 1993. Before her election, Representative Eshoo served on California’s San Mateo County Board of Supervisors for ten years, from 1982 until her election to Congress in 1992. In 2019, she was elected as Chair of the Health Subcommittee within the House Energy and Commerce Committee, making her the first woman ever to hold the position.
Representative Eshoo’s legislative priorities include health, housing, foreign affairs and national security, energy and the environment, immigration, and transportation and infrastructure. Most notably, Representative Eshoo helped draft portions of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, and has cosponsored and voted for American Dream and Promise Act, a bill that would provide DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” with a path to citizenship.
2. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA48)
Congressman Darrell Issa, a Lebanese American, shares Congresswoman Eshoo’s home state of California, representing its 48th Congressional District. Starting with his election in 2000, Representative Issa served in Congress for 18 years before retiring in 2018, only to run successfully for reelection in 2020.
Representative Issa is a U.S. Army veteran and completed his active-duty military service in 1980, ultimately earning the rank of captain before moving on to the private sector. In 1982, he founded Directed Electronics, a vehicle security and anti-theft product manufacturing company. He served as CEO of the company until 2000 when he sold the company and began pursuing his congressional career.
Due to his successful past as an entrepreneur, Representative Issa is one of the wealthiest members of Congress. His legislative priorities include education, the economy, veterans and the military, and foreign affairs as well as protecting intellectual property rights and fighting human trafficking. Representative Issa serves in two House Committees: The Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Perhaps most notable is his cosponsorship of House Resolution 569, introduced by Congressman Darrin LaHood (see number 4 below). This resolution expressed solidarity with the Lebanese people on the first anniversary of the explosions at the Port of Beirut and encouraged continued U.S.-Lebanese cooperation.
3. Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA06)
Congressman Garret Graves is of Lebanese descent and has represented Louisiana’s 6th Congressional district since his election in 2014. He serves on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Aviation and a member of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. He also serves on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee and was the ranking member of the Select Committee on Climate during the 117th Congress.
Representative Graves champions legislative issues relating to infrastructure, energy, maritime, fisheries, coastal restoration, and disaster relief and response. He is also interested in foreign affairs, having cosponsored, alongside Congressman Darrell Issa, Congressman LaHood’s House Resolution 569 on solidarity with the Lebanese people (see numbers 2 and 4). Representative Graves was not unfamiliar with the congressional world before his election, having served as a legislative aid for several congressmen and House and Senate Committees.
4. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL16)
Congressman Darin LaHood is of Lebanese descent and represents the 16th Congressional district of Illinois, having previously represented the state’s 18th district since 2015. An attorney by profession, Representative LaHood worked as a State and Federal Prosecutor before he started his legislative career. He then served on the Illinois State Senate for four years, after which time he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
In his work in Congress, LaHood prioritizes national security, limiting federal spending, improving infrastructure, protecting gun rights, and issues relating to foreign policy and national security. He is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, where he serves on the Tax Policy and Trade Subcommittees. He is also a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and serves on the C3 and INMAR Subcommittees.
Congressman LaHood, along with his fellow Congressmen of Lebanese origin, emphasizes U.S.-Lebanese relations, namely with his introduction of H.R. 569 (see numbers 2 and 3 above). He also co-chairs the U.S.-Lebanon Friendship Caucus with Congressman Issa.
5. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN05)
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who is Somali-American, has represented Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district since her election in 2018. Born in Somalia, she and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight years old and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp during the 1990s. In 1997, she moved to Minneapolis with her family, where she pursued a career in public policy. After serving as a Senior Policy Aide for the Minneapolis City Council, she was elected as a Minnesota House Representative in 2016.
Throughout her incredible career in public service, Representative Omar has fulfilled many firsts: she is the highest-elected Somali American public official in the United States and the first Somali American State Legislator. After her election in 2018, she, along with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, became one of the first two Muslim women ever to be elected to Congress.
In her legislative work, Representative Omar is most passionate about immigration, education, healthcare, environmental justice, and foreign policy. She works to provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA and DED recipients, as well as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders. She also believes in securing equitable, affordable access to education and healthcare; as such, she supports Medicare for All and eliminating student loan debt.
6. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI12)
Perhaps the most well-known on this list within the Arab American community, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is Palestinian and has represented Michigan’s 13th Congressional district since 2018. This year, she serves Michigan’s 12th district, and prioritizes ending poverty, promoting environmental justice, providing access to healthcare and safe housing, and promoting justice for all. She is passionate about eliminating gun violence, protecting civil rights, and promoting women’s health and bodily autonomy.
Representative Tlaib is also a powerful advocate for the Arab American community. Last summer, she reintroduced the resolution honoring Arab American Heritage Month in April, expressing the importance of recognizing the powerful contributions of Arab Americans to our country.
Furthermore, she, along with Congresswoman Eshoo (see number 1 above) and two other congresswomen, introduced the Health Equity and Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Community Inclusion Act of 2022. This bill aims to include “Middle Easterners and North Africans” in the definition of “racial and ethnic minority groups” in the Public Health Service Act of 1944. This would ensure that MENA individuals are not categorized with white individuals as they have been in the past and instead have their health disparities addressed and their needs met.
What Does the Future Hold?
It is clear that Arab Americans are becoming increasingly engaged in public service and the government. As we saw, the current six Arab American members of Congress are thoroughly engaged in important issues that affect us as constituents and often collaborate on legislation. However, our contributions have long gone unnoticed, which is why the empowerment of Arab Americans and our increased representation in the public sector is crucial. As Arab Americans continue to succeed, we will undoubtedly see even more Arab American representation in Congress, including in the U.S. Senate. Perhaps, it is time to form a Congressional Arab Caucus, to further exhibit solidarity among our Arab American leaders in the federal legislature.
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