Retiring Democrats will crowd the exits in 2022
Key liberals announce their retirements from Congress
As Republicans picked up wins in elections earlier this month, the super PAC Priorities USA sent out a grim memo to fellow Democrats: “With the midterm elections just a year away, we face a difficult set of challenges, some of our own making.” The memo went on to elaborate that “Democratic infighting is cannibalizing any headlines about the progress we are making.”
The battle between progressive and moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill has other casualties, too. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., told The Washington Post last week that counterproductive infighting and hateful rhetoric chipped away the love she had for her job. She announced last month that she will not seek reelection in her swing district.
A string of key Democrats in Congress recently announced their retirements, including Rep. Jackie Speier of California, who decided on a life of public service after she survived being shot during the Jonestown Massacre in 1978. On Thursday, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., confirmed reports of his retirement as well. The 74-year-old member of the Congressional Black Caucus would have faced a more difficult reelection campaign after redistricting added more Republican voters to his district.
Those announcements followed one by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who rocked the political boat when he said he would not seek a ninth term. The 81-year-old lawmaker leaves his seat in a solidly blue state. Vermont has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1988. An array of retirement announcements often indicates lack of confidence in the party’s election chances, a narrative Democrats are trying to combat. Republicans claim the departure of more than a dozen Democratic incumbents for either retirement or election for another office signals an advancing GOP wave.
Historically, it might be time for a resurgence of Republican seats to regain control of the House. Shortly before the 2018 midterm elections, a near-record number of GOP politicians left office, according to Pew Research, and Democrats picked up 40 House seats. Political favor typically swings toward the opposite party of the president’s in national elections following a presidential race.
Hopeful Republicans point to party gains in this year’s Virginia elections as evidence of a changing tide. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report tweeted that if gains in Virginia and New Jersey are indicative of the national election outlook, Republicans could win up to 51 seats.
Democrats have tried to cultivate a more positive outlook. “Politics is a game of transitions,” strategist Antjuan Seawright told The Hill. “As the country changes, as our party evolves, [retirements] will be reflective of that change. It makes room for new leadership. It also makes room for new growth.”
Democratic Reps. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, David Prince of North Carolina, and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania are giving up safely blue seats. They all considered retiring in 2016, assuming they would fade out at the start of Hillary Clinton’s presidency with a Democratic majority in the House. When Donald Trump won, they decided to stay on. Yarmuth, who holds the only Democratic seat in his state, told The New Yorker that although he faults Republicans for stalled legislation, Democrats have not been immune from tribalism. He also blamed President Joe Biden for moving too slowly on pushing changes to the filibuster rule that allows the minority party in the Senate to stall legislation that cannot garner 60 yes votes.
As for Pelosi, she previously said this term would be her last but has shooed away reporters who asked whether she will run for reelection.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had targeted Butterfield’s seat as a possibility to flip after redistricting lines shifted his district more Republican. His announcement will bring the total to 15 Democrats not seeking reelection.
“Democrats have two choices: retire or lose,” the NRCC said in a statement on Wednesday. “The smart ones are retiring.”
What’s next for the retirees? In his announcement video, Yarmuth, who will be 75 by the end of his term, said he wants to spend his remaining years with family. Speier also looks forward to more family time: “It’s time for me to come home. Time for me to be more than a weekend wife, mother, and friend.”
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