Less than halfway through her first term, Underwood has accomplished what has historically taken new members of Congress in the majority party a full two years to achieve.
Lauren Underwood defied expectations when she won her seat in Congress in 2018. After beating six men in the Democratic primary, she bested a Republican incumbent in a district President Donald Trump carried by four points, becoming the youngest African-American woman elected to Congress and the first woman and black person to represent Illinois’ 14th district.
Since she began her term in January, she’s defied expectations for a freshman lawmaker, too.
Less than halfway through her first term, Underwood has accomplished what has historically taken new members of Congress in the majority party a full two years to achieve, according to data on lawmakers’ legislative effectiveness from the Center for Effective Lawmaking, a joint research institution between Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia.
In ten months, Underwood has introduced 15 bills and four amendments. For comparison, freshmen of the majority party of the past two Congresses — Republicans — introduced an average of 13 bills throughout the entire two years of their first terms.
Beyond introducing legislation, Underwood’s proposed bills have made progress in congressional committees, and three have already passed the House. Those numbers match or exceed the average for new lawmakers in the majority party over the two years of the previous Congress, too.
With that, she’s already proven she can advance agenda items through the legislative process at least as successfully as members of the majority had in previous Congresses, said Alan Wiseman, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University and co-director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking.
With 14 months remaining in her first term, she is likely to end up “being notably more successful” if she keeps moving legislation at this rate, Wiseman said.
Data suggests, Wiseman added, that not much should be expected from freshman lawmakers. They rarely run congressional committees, which is the first stop for any legislation on its way to actually getting a vote on the floor. They also “lack some of the most obvious institutional privileges that a more senior member might have … right off the bat, they are not in a clear position of institutional influence with which they can dramatically affect the course of legislation,” Wiseman said.
But Underwood, who had never held elected office prior to this year, has so far overcome those obstacles. That’s a story that Wiseman suggests could play well with swing voters back home.
“When constituents are presented with objective information about the relative lawmaking effectiveness of their members, they tend to be more favorably disposed toward members who are effective lawmakers, even if they’re on the opposing party,” Wiseman said.
In an email, a spokesperson for Underwood highlighted the following pieces of bipartisan legislation from Underwood’s first 10 months on Capitol Hill. This list includes bills and amendments on which Underwood was an original sponsor, and others she conceived but could not officially introduce for jurisdictional reasons.
Banning “junk” health insurance plans
Underwood’s first bill passed the Committee on Education and Labor in April. The bill would prohibit insurers from offering more insurance plans that can reject people for having pre-existing conditions, Underwood wrote in a Facebook post announcing the bill had moved through committee. As a former senior advisor at the Department of Health and Human Services, Underwood helped implement the Affordable Care Act. Strengthening the ACA was a central tenet of her campaign, so it’s no surprise this bill came as her first big break.
Helping Customs and Border Patrol dismantle terrorist networks
This legislation offers enhanced resources for US Customs and Border Protection to identify and dismantle networks that pose terrorist or criminal threats. Underwood secured a bipartisan cosponsor for the bill, Rep. John Kato (R-NY.), which all but ensured the bill’s safe passage through the House by voice vote on Sept. 26.
Improving medical screenings at the US Border
Two days after a photo of a father and his young daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande River iconicized the humanitarian crisis unfolding along the Southern border, the House passed Underwood’s bill to bolster medical safeguards for persons arriving at the border. That wasn’t the first-time Underwood had witnessed the grim realities facing Central American migrants seeking refuge in the US — she saw it for herself during a spring visit to the border, prompting her to introduce US Border Patrol Medical Screening and Standards Act . The legislation passed the House with votes from two Republicans on Sept. 26 and was quickly assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has an 81 percent chance of becoming law, according to Skopos Labs.
Studying the effectiveness of suicide prevention programs at the VA
Underwood led the charge on H.R. 2372, which creates a study on the effectiveness of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ partnerships with outside groups to provide suicide prevention and mental health services. It passed by voice vote on May 21. Several Republicans praised the bill, including Ohio Rep. Bob Latta. “I was proud to join my colleagues in supporting legislation that helps our veterans receive the quality health care, education, and transitional support they earned and deserve,” he said in a statement.
Studying the effect of substance abuse on adoption
Underwood introduced an amendment to the Stronger Child Abuse and Prevention Act in May. Her proposal would require research on the effects of substance abuse on adoption outcomes.
Preventing government money being used to remove climate change information
This budget amendment would prevent funds from being used to remove existing information about climate change from official publications. Underwood introduced the measure in an attempt to block the Trump administration’s efforts to sweep the results of climate change research from public view. It passed the House by voice vote on June 20.
Stopping government funding of legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act
Staying true to her campaign promise to protect healthcare, Underwood introduced this budget amendment to prevent the Trump Administration from using taxpayer money to fund litigation that undermines the Affordable Care Act. Four House Republicans joined Democrats to pass the amendment on June 20.
Requiring study on government shutdown affects on domestic violence prevention funds
This amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act would require the DOJ to study the effect of a government shutdown on dispersing funding and services to victims of domestic violence. It passed the House with widespread support by voice vote on April 3.
Increasing childhood trauma specialist funding
In a second amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, Underwood pushed to increase investments in childhood trauma specialists and behavioral health experts focused on youth exposure to violence. It was also agreed to by voice vote on April 3.