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As Congress struggles, more members bail on re-election plans

Members of Congress aren’t retiring because they’re worried about losing, many are leaving because they’re worried about staying in a dysfunctional place.


The past few months have been busy for those keeping an eye on congressional retirements. In the House, roughly two dozen Democrats are giving up their seats — some are exiting the public stage, others are seeking higher offices — and the number of Republicans doing the same thing is nearly as large.

That said, some stand out more than others. Roll Call reported:

House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a 10-term Republican from Washington state who has been a strong advocate for people with disabilities, announced Thursday she would not seek reelection this year. ... The announcement comes as Rodgers is leading negotiations with the Senate on a wide-ranging health care package that touches all parts of the industry. The legislation would implement more transparency in data and pricing for prescription drugs and other medical services.

If Rodgers’ name sounds at all familiar, she’s been a prominent figure among congressional Republicans for many years. In fact, in 2014, the Washington Republican — at the time, the House Republican Conference chair — was tapped to deliver her party’s official response to one of Barack Obama’s State of the Union addresses, putting her in the national spotlight and leaving little doubt that GOP officials saw her as a leading voice in the party.

Her profile wasn’t as significant during the Trump era, but Rodgers nevertheless worked her way up on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, ultimately becoming its chair last year.

It’s why the congresswoman’s retirement announcement came as such a surprise.

House Republicans have long imposed term limits on committee chairs, requiring chairs to give up their gavels after six years. This has contributed to the party’s retirement troubles: Members who’ve been forced to step down after leading a committee for six years have routinely decided to simply leave Congress altogether rather than start over on another panel.

But Rodgers has only led the E&C Committee for one year. The assumption was that she was just getting started in a role she’d sought for quite some time. Instead, she’s headed for the exits — and adding to the bipartisan exodus from Capitol Hill.

What’s more, there’s no reason to believe the list won’t continue to grow. Circling back to our coverage from several months ago, Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan told Politico that many of his colleagues are asking, in reference to congressional service, “Is this really worth my time and effort?”

I’m also reminded of something The New York Times reported in an analysis of the retirement announcements: “The wave of lawmakers across chambers and parties announcing they intend to leave Congress comes at a time of breathtaking dysfunction on Capitol Hill, primarily instigated by House Republicans.”

That was published in November. The dysfunction is significantly worse now.

Traditionally, there have been large numbers of retirements when members were worried about losing. This year, there have been large numbers of retirements because members are worried about staying in an institution that appears incapable of working under Republican control.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.