House Democrats are facing a growing wave of retirements as they close out 2021 and enter what’s expected to be a challenging midterm election year.
The string of retirement announcements in recent days cap off what’s already been a demoralizing end to Democrats’ first year in power of Washington since Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOn The Money — Biden extends student loan relief Overnight Health Care — FDA endorses first pill to treat COVID-19 Energy & Environment — Advocates look for Plan B climate legislation MORE (D-W.Va.) declared he couldn’t support the party’s social spending and climate package.
More retirement announcements are likely in the coming days and weeks as lawmakers are home for the holidays with their families and decide they’d rather not have to keep making the regular trek to the House.
In the span of 24 hours earlier this week, three Democrats announced they wouldn’t run for reelection next year: Reps. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyBiden setbacks rattle Democrats facing tough elections The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by National Industries for the Blind – US reeling from omicron; Manchin-Biden aftershocks Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 MORE (Fla.), Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardDemocrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Biden setbacks rattle Democrats facing tough elections The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by National Industries for the Blind – US reeling from omicron; Manchin-Biden aftershocks MORE (Calif.) and Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresBiden setbacks rattle Democrats facing tough elections Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Powerful House Democratic appropriator not seeking reelection MORE (N.J.).
That followed Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalDemocrats confront rising retirements as difficult year ends Members of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Powerful House Democratic appropriator not seeking reelection MORE’s (D-Calif.) retirement announcement last week, as well as that of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Airlines defend delays, cancellations amid scrutiny from Congress The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden talks up bright side beneath omicron’s cloud MORE (D-Ore.) earlier this month.
Thanksgiving to mid-January is typically the peak time frame for lawmaker retirement announcements as they spend time at home over the holidays, reflect on the state of Congress at year’s end, and get closer to filing deadlines to run for reelection.
And at the end of a year where Congress has become an ever more toxic environment in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and Democrats have struggled to enact President BidenJoe BidenGOP’s Rice says he regrets Jan. 6 vote against Biden’s election Fauci says large holiday gatherings not safe — even with booster Clyburn tests positive for COVID-19 in breakthrough case MORE’s agenda with their razor-thin majorities, retirements can have a compounding effect on morale.
“Retirements have two distinct effects,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former top staffer at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“Some retirements may be downers for the members because it’s a member who they have gotten to know and work with and are sad to see leave. Some retirements are downers because people read them as making it harder for us to retain the majority.”
The pace of Democrats’ retirements this year is currently on par with Republicans in 2018. At the time, the GOP similarly faced historical midterm election headwinds and went on to lose the House majority in a referendum of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGOP’s Rice says he regrets Jan. 6 vote against Biden’s election Jim Jordan says he has ‘real concerns’ with Jan. 6 panel after sit-down request On The Money — Biden extends student loan relief MORE’s presidency.
So far, 23 House Democrats aren’t running for reelection next year.
By comparison, 25 House Republicans had announced by the end of 2017 that they weren’t running for reelection, according to a tally kept by The New York Times.
Nine more House Republicans joined them by the end of January 2018. That included five in competitive districts, further compounding the challenge for the GOP to keep control of the House by having to defend more open seats.
In the current cycle, only 13 Republicans have decided against running for reelection. The figure includes eight who are running for other offices and two who decided to resign early to take other jobs outside of public service.
Just as Democrats were favored to win the House in 2018, Republicans are on even easier footing this election cycle since they only need to flip five seats to clinch the majority. In 2018, Democrats needed to flip 23 seats to gain the House majority.
Republicans are hailing the string of recent Democratic retirements as another sign that they’re well-positioned to win back the House.
“House Democrats’ nightmare before Christmas just keeps getting worse. Nobody wants to run as a Democrat because they know voters are rejecting their push for defunding police, higher taxes, and open borders,” said Mike Berg, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The 2022 midterm cycle is further complicated by once-a-decade redistricting, which is playing a role in several Democrats’ decisions not to seek reelection.
Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 North Carolina Democrat Jeff Jackson drops out of Senate race Democrat Jeff Jackson set to exit North Carolina Senate race: report MORE (D-N.C.), for example, cited a “racially gerrymandered” map drawn by his state’s GOP-led legislature as a factor in his decision not to run for reelection after 18 years in Congress.
But on the flip side, the new lines created for DeFazio’s district to make it more safely Democratic paved the way for his retirement.
DeFazio, who won reelection last year by just five points, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that “I would have felt more obligation to run again” if his district had remained competitive after redistricting.
In a silver lining for Democrats, so far only a handful of the lawmakers opting not to seek reelection to the House hail from competitive districts that could be harder to defend without a well-known incumbent.
Only two of the seven Democrats who won districts carried by Trump last year, Reps. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Almost half in new poll expect economy to get worse in next year Democrats race to get ahead of inflation MORE (Ill.) and Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Democrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Democrats unite to send infrastructure bill to Biden’s desk MORE (Wis.), have opted not to run for reelection. And three other Democrats who represent districts that Biden carried by less than 5 points are now running for other offices: Reps. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 Lowenthal becomes latest House Democrat to not seek reelection Your must-read holiday book list from members of Congress MORE (Ohio) and Conor Lamb (Pa.) for Senate plus Charlie CristCharles (Charlie) Joseph CristMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 DeSantis proposes civilian Florida State Guard military force he would control Florida Republicans debate how far to push congressional remap MORE (Fla.) for governor.
“In particularly bad midterm cycles, retirements pile up and they pile up from districts that Democrats will have trouble holding,” Ferguson said. “That’s not the case this year. Most — there are some exceptions — but most of the retirements so far have come from seats that will remain in Democratic hands after the midterms.”
But some of the House Democrats heading for the exits are among the most influential in the caucus. DeFazio and House Budget Committee Chairman John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthMembers of Congress not running for reelection in 2022 The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Uber – Senate gets busy, except for Build Back Better House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike MORE (D-Ky.), who have served a combined 48 years in Congress, are both calling it quits after playing key roles this year in the infrastructure bill and social spending package, as is Murphy, a key leader of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition.
In her retirement announcement, Murphy, who serves on the select committee investigating Jan. 6, warned her colleagues against continuing to engage in “name calling” and “saber rattling” in a year when two Republicans have been kicked off committees for invoking messages of violence.
“At a time when our politics have become so divisive and dangerous, my greatest hope for my colleagues is that they do the same. To stop the name calling, saber rattling, and the disinformation and to listen to one another. Be ideological in the fight, but pragmatic in the end,” Murphy said.