Congress Rocked By Multiple Retirements

According to a recent study, 29 House members—19 Democrats and 10 Republicans—announced their intentions to retire in November, the most recorded.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s fourteen years in the House have been the most productive of the past two years, and Rep. Michael C. Burgess of Texas is now the second-most-senior Republican on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee. The Republican from Arizona, Rep. Debbie Lesko, was just named the subcommittee’s vice chair.

The three politicians, however, have all decided in the last several weeks that they would prefer retirement over continuing in politics. The recent senate threat to fight a committee witness and the altercation by two colleagues over claims of elbowing one another are examples of political performance art that have left more serious lawmakers psychologically beaten. Not many were shocked by Rep. Ken Buck’s (R-Colo.) decision not to run for reelection next year, which he announced on November 1st.

The retirement figures are consistent with past legislative sessions, but not all retirements are the same. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who left office in 2017, commented that what matters is not the number of retirements but their quality. Two members of Israel’s class of 2012, Representatives Daniel Kildee (D-Michigan) and Derek Kilmer (D-Washington), surprised their colleagues by announcing their retirements.

Data from the Center for Effective Lawmaking, a joint endeavor by the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University, shows a brain drain in the House of Representatives. There was an increasing trend of retirement announcements, with approximately 46% of House members having served for less than five years. Some members are furious about recent events, such as the House speaker’s dismissal and the continuing party animosity.

The trend has only just begun, with many feeling they might be doing better with their life outside the Beltway, according to Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.).

There aren’t enough legislative allies in the GOP caucus, a problem for Democrats like Israel. Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) election, which required fifteen rounds of voting in early January, is often cited by departing Republicans as an example of the dysfunction that many Republicans experience. Last month, McCarthy was removed from his position as speaker after caving to demands from a few far-right MPs.