Next year’s Congress will boast the largest class of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans yet, even as the overall number of lawmakers with military experience continues to decline.
At least 22 veterans of the current wars won their races Tuesday, with at least four contests still undecided Wednesday morning. This year’s Congress has 17 veterans of the current wars.
The new class includes six Democrats and at least 16 Republicans. It is headlined by Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton and Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, the first two Iraq War veterans elected to the chamber.
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., is the only other senator to have served in Iraq, but he was appointed to the seat to fill a vacancy.
Cotton, who had already represented Arkansas in the House, served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was among the key Republican pickups that will shift control of the Senate to his party next year.
Ernst, the first female Iraq War veteran elected to the Senate, made national headlines with campaign ads last spring in which she boasted of her experience castrating hogs on the family farm. “When I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork,” she quipped.
All 14 Iraq War veterans running for re-election in the House won their bids.
The number of veterans of all eras in Congress will drop again next year, from 106 this session, but a few upsets will keep the total above 100, according to officials with the nonpartisan Veterans Campaign.
Congress has not had fewer than 100 lawmakers with military experience since the 1950s, when World War II veterans had just begun political careers. But the total still marks a sharp drop over the last 30 years, when almost 200 veterans served in the House and Senate.
Veterans Campaign officials said the number of veterans in the Senate actually will increase next year, the first time since 1982 that the chamber’s military credentials have not decreased after an election.
Committee assignments for the new veterans won’t be decided until late December, but many are likely to push for assignments on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs’ committees, highlighting their military backgrounds.