Freshman representatives on being part of 117th Congress, the most diverse in history

“Nightline” speaks to New York’s Ritchie Torres, Washington’s Marilyn Strickland, South Carolina’s Nancy Mace and California’s Young Kim.
7:23 | 04/07/21

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Transcript for Freshman representatives on being part of 117th Congress, the most diverse in history
I would wrestle here. So it was a fixture in my childhood. I never thought 15 years later, right across the street that I would open headquarters for my first campaign. Reporter: It wasn't that long ago that representative torres was a poor kid from the bronx. Tell me how a kid from the bronx gets to congress. I grew up in a public housing development right across the street from trump golf course. The government was investing more than $100 million in a golf course for Donald Trump. What does it say about our society that we're willing to invest more in a golf course than in the homes of low income black and brown Americans? And so my experience in public housing is what inspired me. Eventually I took the leap of faith and ran for public office. Reporter: Torres' story is distinctly a New York one. That tale of two cities playing out in his front yard. Now as a U.S. Congressman representing the state's 15th district, he hopes to level the playing field. Your congressional district that you represent right now, food insecurities, unemployment. How do you tackle all of this during your first term? The south bronx is the poorest congressional district in America. I'm optimistic about our ability to confront these challenges because a democratic president and a democratic house and a democratic senate represents to me historic opportunity to govern as boldly in the 21st century if Dr did. Reporter: A historic opportunity for a groundbreaking congressman. Torres is the first openly gay afro-latino member of congress, joining ten lgbtq members, the highest ever in a congressional class. A wise person once said if you don't have a seat at the table, then you're probably on the menu. And with elected officials like me, lgbtq people of color finally have a seat at one of the most powerful tables, the United States congress. Reporter: Joining torres at that most powerful table are 124 people of color. 120 women, 30 of those Republicans, a record-breaking high for the party, making the 117th congress the most diverse in history. At long last, the congressional class that is reflective of the nation it serves. Hi, my name is young Kim. I'm Nancy mays. U.S. Representative Marilyn Reporter: From different backgrounds and experiences, they're beginning their freshmen terms in a year that has already been transformative on the issues of race and equality, and they're ready to take on Washington. Now to the alarming increase in violence directed at people of Asian descent. You see the horrible footage. You see elders being pushed down. You see people have died. Since the beginning of covid-19, we have increasingly seen Asian Americans becoming targets of hate across the nation. Reporter: Representatives young Kim and Marilyn Strickland uniquely feel the weight of being first after a string of attacks against the Asian American community. Believe me when you're the first, you never want to be the last. And so you have a duty to ensure that you're trying to cultivate and help others come after you. Reporter: They, along with representative Michelle park steel are the first korean-american women to serve in congress. Asian Americans are not necessarily, you know, so glued to one party. If you know there is a fellow Asian American running for office, they tend to support them because they are excited about having the opportunity to have another Asian American represent them and their voice. Reporter: Both women have spoken out about the damage the anti-asian rhetoric of the previous administration has had on their community. It really gave people permission to normalize that type of speech and behavior. When president trump called coronavirus Kung flu, that was a defining moment for me. I said enough is enough. Reporter: Like so many Asian Americans, congresswoman young Kim from California's 39th district was shaped by her immigrant experience. My mom would often tell me this country has given us so many opportunities, and when you have the opportunity, let's do our part to give back. Reporter: Those lessons from her mother compelling Kim to take a life of public service. I campaign on being an independent leader. Any legislation that I work on would have to have a bipartisan sponsorship. Reporter: And across the aisle, her democratic colleague and fellow korean-american representative Marilyn Strickland is hoping for the same. Education, job training, workforce development. I think that those are things that very often have bipartisan support. And so I think there is taunt to work together. I think the question is do we have the will to do it. Reporter: Raised by a black father and a Korean mother, Strickland got her start in politics in Tacoma, Washington, wher she served on the city council and then as mayor from 2008 to 2018. She now represents Washington's tenth district, one of the big items on her agenda, police reform. Typically, policing is a very localized issue. But the federal government has a role to play because it doesn't what your zip code is. Every person has a right to be safe in their neighborhood. It is not about being anti-police. It's about being pro safety. Reporter: These new faces of congress just the latest in a long line of female trail blazers, like representative Nancy mace, who was the first female grad from the citadel. She now leads the district with that same drive. But getting to this point meant overcoming enormous challenges. I was raped when I was 16. And I dropped out of school shortly thereafter, right at my 17th birthday. I've had many challenges in my life, but I learned some very tough lessons during some very tough times at a very young age. What pushed you through in those moments? It literally took me 25 years to be able to talk about it publicly. And the only reason I have is because we were debating a fetal heart beat bill and there were no exceptions for women who had been raped or were victims of incest. And I just had it. I was so pissed off and so angry and confronted one of my biggest fears in life, which made me stronger. Reporter: Propelled by her pass, mace is undeterred to take up positions not traditionally supported by Republicans. Like prison reform and environmental issues. My life has been a series of - second chances. So as much success as I've had, I've also failed. And it's one of the reasons that I've been a big champion of criminal justice reform, prison reform. Reporter: This freshman class on the job only a few months are undeterred by the challenges they face, determined to bring real change to Washington. That's the reason I got into politics, because I hate the bs. I hate the hypocrisy. I came to congress to help breach the divide, to help break the gridlock that has been keeping our country from moving forward. There are communities who even before the pandemic were still not being treated well, whether it's access to jobs, access to health care. I think that covid has given them an urgency to try to address them. There is so much that we have to do over the next two years.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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