Hijab-donning Ilhan Omar sworn into US Congress

Ilhan Omar, a Muslim, is among a group of trailblazing women who have just made history by being sworn into US Congress. 

This year represents a record 102 women who have been sworn in, including Democrat Ms Omar, a 37-year-old who ran for Minnesota's fifth congressional district. She's a Somali refugee who fled the African country's civil war. 

Ms Omar is joined by 42-year-old Rashida Tlaib, who ran for Michigan's 13th congressional district. She's a Detroit-born Palestinian-American. The pair are the first Muslim women ever to be sworn into US Congress. 

In a Tweet marking the day, Ms Omar said: "23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress."

Democrat Nancy Pelosi, in her remarks on the House floor after being sworn in as its new Speaker, said the US is "at a historic moment". She said two months ago the "American people spoke and demanded a new dawn". 

Ms Pelosi was referring to the US midterm elections held in November last year. The 2018 midterms were marked as the most expensive in US history, with the most female candidates ever, along with the most money from female donors, and the highest turnout from voters.  

The House of Representatives had all 435 seats up for grabs, along with 35 seats in the 100-member Senate, and 36 governorships. The Democrats needed to gain 23 seats to win the House majority, and they won. 

But Republicans had a 51-49 edge in the Senate and were favoured to hang on to their power since Democrats were defending 26 seats, compared to Republicans defending only nine - and the Republicans ended up holding control. 

Ms Pelosi was sworn in on Thursday (local time) as the next Speaker, returning to the position she previously made history as by being the first woman in the role. She served as Speaker from 2007-2011. 

Another woman elected to Congress is the highly discussed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York who, at 29, became the youngest female member of the House. There's also Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, who are the first Native American women to be sworn in. 

Sharice Davids is one of the first Native American women to be sworn into Congress.
Sharice Davids is one of the first Native American women to be sworn into Congress. Photo credit: ITV News

But it won't be an entirely positive start for the Democrat-led House as the 2019-2020 Congress begins work with a roughly quarter of the federal government shutdown, affecting some 800,000 employees. 

The shutdown was triggered by US President Donald Trump, who demanded last month that around US$5 billion be put towards extending the border wall with Mexico - a campaign promise he frequently made, claiming Mexico would pay for it. He slammed the Democrats on Twitter for opposing the funding. 

Democrats have offered US$1.3 billion for border security measures, including increased surveillance and fencing, but have denied Mr Trump's demand for US$5.6 billion to build 200 miles of fencing along the 2000-mile border.