Minnesota's Tina Smith replaces Al Franken in Senate, marking record number of 22 female senators

After Smith is sworn-in, the Senate will have a record number of women serving.

— -- There are a record number of women serving in the U.S. Senate now that Democrat Tina Smith, the former lieutenant governor of Minnesota, has been sworn in as a U.S. senator representing that state.

There are 17 Democrats and five Republicans who make up the women serving in the Senate.

While today also marks the highest number of women serving in Congress overall, women still make up less than 20 percent of Congress.

“It’s is an important historical note but it’s also an important reminder of how far we still have to get to parity for women in American politics, particularly on the congressional level,” Rutgers political science professor Kelly Dittmar, who’s also a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, said.

Only six states in the history of the Senate have had two female senators at the same time, with California being the first in 1993. But Klobuchar still remains the only woman Minnesotans have elected to the Senate.

Smith was already in Washington the week leading up to Christmas, participating in meetings.

Smith’s time in the Senate, however, may be temporary. She’ll serve until the winner of the November special election permanently replaces Franken. Her last day will be in January 2019, but Smith said she intends to run in the special election.

A record number of female candidates are expected to run in 2018 across all levels of office, professor Dittmar said, but particularly in Congress. Forty-six candidates are expected to run in the midterms for U.S. Senate, according to the center’s research.

The more women there are in Congress and the greater the differences among them, “it will add more diversity to the agenda and to the conversation,” Dittmar said, adding that female senators’ life experiences differ from their male colleagues.

“Again, not because we think alike, but women bring different perspectives, different life experiences, and that’s very healthy for an informed debate on issues.”