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Freshmen Orange County Republican Congress Members Sworn In

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The November victory by Republican Congresswoman Michelle Steel (R-Seal Beach) is being touted by the party as an example of its progress in diversifying the party. (Courtesy Michelle Steel)
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A new year brings the convening of a new Congress in the nation’s capital, including some fresh faces from Southern California.

And for the first time on record, the swearing-in ceremony happened on a Sunday.

Why? The Constitution dictates each new Congress starts at noon on January 3rd. If that falls on a weekend, official business is usually put off until the following Monday. But the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives wasted no time, in part to avoid giving President Trump a chance to make recess appointments.

The 117th Congress includes two new members from Orange County: Michelle Steel and Young Kim, who join Marilyn Strickland (D-WA) as the first Korean American women in Congress.

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Steel and Kim are already being associated with a group of new Republican members presenting themselves as a counterpoint to the “Squad,” the alliance of liberal Democratic women who won seats in 2018, headed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

COVID precautions forced changes to the usual festive atmosphere on the first day of a new Congress, when spouses and kids typically fill the Capitol to celebrate and take selfies. Instead, swearing-in ceremonies were held in small groups, and only freshman representatives were allowed to bring a guest.

It was the culmination of a long campaign and whirlwind transition for Steel. In November, her opponent, Democrat incumbent Harley Rouda, conceded one week after Election Day.

“And that afternoon, I got an email [saying to] show up for orientation on Thursday, giving me two days,” she said.

On top of attending the two-week boot camp on House ethics and procedures for freshmen Representatives, there was staff to hire and an office to set up. Add to that, finding a small apartment to stay in while working in D.C. — all while still chairing the Orange County Board of Supervisors, leading meetings remotely.

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“It was like drinking out of a fire hose,” said Steel, who resigned her supervisors' seat on Saturday.

She considers her election proof that The American Dream is still achievable for anyone, including immigrants. In the days before being sworn in, Steel says she got emotional walking by the Capitol.

“I came here, [to] this country when I was 19. And now I’m working here in this building,” she said. “I was almost crying.”