OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
Democratic retirements continue to mount ahead of next year’s 2022 midterm elections which are already being heavily handicapped in Republicans’ favor, thanks to a number of factors not the least of which is President Biden’s rising unpopularity.
Long-serving Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.) is the latest to announce his retirement which came on Wednesday “as [Democrats’] landmark bills are getting neutered in the Senate” and in the states, “they’ve already started a brutal round of redistricting as President Joe Biden’s approval rating nosedive,” Politico reported Thursday.
A number of Democrats, many of them senior party members who are also retiring, say that they have never seen so much vitriol between members.
“Let’s face it: The atmosphere in this place — it’s a hostile work environment,” retiring Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) told Politico. “We’ve got members threatening to kill other members and treating each other with such disrespect. … Things seem to be getting worse.”
He may have been referencing a recent anime posted to Rep. Paul Gosar’s (R-Ariz.) Twitter account in which ‘he’ was depicted in a character ‘killing’ a character featuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bust. But Democrats have been just as feisty; Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said this week there could be a “revolution” if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade; and ‘AOC’ herself accused all Republicans of being racists after she said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) presided over the “KKK caucus.”
Politico noted further:
The retirement of DeFazio, chair of the House transportation committee, sent a shock wave through a caucus already clinging to its small majority after months of infighting. The departure of a high-profile gavel-wielder, whose seat became much safer in redistricting, has left many Democrats asking the obvious question: Who’s next?
Even those who plan to stick around for another term are less than enthusiastic about it.
“If you’ve been here a long time, it gets old after a while,” noted Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.). “Especially with redistricting and the likelihood of us potentially losing the majority, a lot of folks … are looking at this as the high-water mark.”
“This place is a slog,” noted Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). “People maybe thought that being in the majority would solve all the problems, and it’s hard, too.”
Some senior Democrats have pointed to some bright spots including a recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill, a favorable redistricting map in Illinois, and the potential to pass a once-in-a-generation expansion of the federal social safety net — should it get enough votes in the Senate.
But at the same time, Democrats are increasingly coming to the realization that they are clinging to their small majorities by a thread, with most, Politico reported, under the impression the party will be in the minority again heading into 2023.
“Most people don’t get elected to be the goalie” in the minority, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), told Politico in recalling his previous time in the minority “Most people want to get out there and do something, and that’s why they run for Congress. And that’s the biggest challenge.”
And many House Democrats are especially frustrated with some of their colleagues in the 50-50 Senate, where many of the more ambitious left-wing agenda items have stalled or died.
“It takes a lot of the sense of power that you have, especially as a chair,” said House Budget Chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who is also retiring next year.
“I’m a new chair. But I can tell you it’s hard, especially when you have smaller margins, trying to get things done,” noted the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s chief, Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.). “The climate here has changed.”
Most painful for Democrats are retirements by swing-seat members like Kind, Rep. Cheri Bustos in Illinois and Rep. G.K. Butterfield in North Carolina, as well as the departures of Reps. Charlie Crist in Florida, Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and Tim Ryan in Ohio — who are all seeking higher office.
That’s not counting one of the party’s biggest mysteries: the future of its House leaders. None of the so-called “big three” — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — have revealed their plans for 2022, although Pelosi has previously said this would be her last term.