The 115th Congress took their oaths Tuesday, becoming the most diverse class of lawmakers yet. The cohort includes North Florida’s brand new delegation: Republicans Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, Neal Dunn of Panama City, and Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee. All are freshmen members of Congress, though Gaetz and Lawson both served in the Florida Legislature. Paul Ryan, the newly re-elected Speaker of the House, swore in the representatives together.
“Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?” Ryan asked.
“I do!” the new members of Congress yelled.
Obamacare will likely be one of the first issues the new lawmakers will face. Both Dunn and Gaetz are pledging to repeal the healthcare law, which could leave more than a million Floridians without insurance. The Republicans also campaigned on halting illegal immigration and expanding gun rights. Meanwhile, Lawson is pushing for criminal justice reform and infrastructure spending, at a time when North Florida residents are hoping to extend passenger rail service across the Panhandle.
The swearing in ceremony came after a late night, closed door meeting when House Republicans voted to dismantle the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent panel that holds lawmakers accountable. The House of Representatives formed the office in 2008, spurred by a a series of ethics scandals involving members and staff, notably the conviction of lobbyist Jack Abramoff of fraud, conspiracy to bribe elected officials and tax evasion. Following widespread criticism, including from President Elect Donald Trump, House Republicans dropped the measure Tuesday afternoon.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio also took office Tuesday, winning re-election despite admitting he may leave the office for another presidential bid.