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News / Northwest

A chaotic U.S. House is losing three Republican committee chairs to retirement in the span of a week

By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press
Published: February 16, 2024, 9:52am

WASHINGTON — In a single week, the Republican chairs of three House committees announced they would not be seeking reelection, raising questions about whether the chaos that has reigned this Congress is driving out some of the GOP’s top talent.

What makes the retirements particularly noteworthy is that none of the chairs were at risk of losing their position due to the term limits that House Republicans impose on their committee leaders. They conceivably could have returned to the same leadership roles in the next Congress, but chose instead to leave and give up jobs they had worked years to obtain.

“They would clearly rather be home with their family than in Washington with a dysfunctional Congress,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye. “I would have said this to you 10 years ago, but it’s just gotten worse. Congress has become a bad workplace.”

The three are Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Mark Green of Tennessee.

McMorris Rodgers was the first to announce she would be leaving after four years as the top GOP member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the most prestigious panels on Capitol Hill. Past chairmen such as Republican Billy Tauzin helped add prescription drug coverage to the Medicare program, while Democrat Henry Waxman authored the Affordable Care Act, expanding health coverage for millions of Americans.

The second retirement announcement came from the new chair of a special committee focused on China. Gallagher, announced “with a heavy heart,” he would not seek reelection.

Gallagher’s announcement came days after he voted against impeaching Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, frustrating the right flank of the GOP and generating a likely primary challenge. But Gallagher told the local Fox affiliate in his Wisconsin district that he and his wife were thinking about his leaving Congress long before the impeachment vote. He also said the pushback was nothing compared to what he endured when he refused to object to the Electoral College count in 2021.

And, on Wednesday, Rep. Green, now in just his second year as chair of the Homeland Security Committee, announced he would not seek reelection. The move came one day after he led the Mayorkas impeachment vote on the House floor. He said he wanted to get in front of a pending story about his retirement that had leaked to the press.

Green came the closest to acknowledging the chaos of the last 14 months played a role in his decision.

“Well, the work to productivity ratio may have had a little bit to do with it,” Green said.

He said Republicans would have to increase their majority in the House to get anything done.

“So I’m going to go do a few other things,” Green said.

McMorris Rodgers said chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee has been the best position that she’s had in her 10 terms in Congress. She said there were a lot of factors in her decision “and it was mostly about my family.”

“It was a difficult decision. I’ve worked very hard and I’m proud of what we accomplished, but for me, this was the time,” she said.

Gallagher also said it was time for him to go.

“The Framers intended citizens to serve in Congress for a season and then return to their private lives. Electoral politics was never supposed to be a career and, trust me, Congress is no place to grow old. And so, with a heavy heart, I have decided not to run for reelection,” Gallagher said.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he believes the exodus includes the possibility that Republicans could be serving in the minority next year if they lose the House in the November election.

“Who wants to finish your career here in the minority?” Lucas said. “It’s also a frustration with the difficulty of legislating at this time because of issues within factions and the balanced nature of the House membership.”

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He also noted that there’s been no cost-of-living adjustment for lawmakers. At $174,000 a year, they make the same wage they did 15 years ago.

“Most of these members are experienced people on really important, relevant committees and the outside world realizes their skill sets, and they’re probably trying to pull them,” he said.

Lucas, who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said he’s not considering stepping down any time soon. He recalled how former Rep. Don Young of Alaska, the longest serving Republican member in the House before his death in 2022, admonished him during a particularly tough day.

“He looks me in the eye and says ‘Lucas, people like you and I were here when this place still worked. We can’t leave because if you leave before we get back to that point, some of these underclassmen don’t have a clue about how things are supposed to happen, how to do anything” Lucas said.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., had a different take, saying the turnover is actually a good thing for the House. He said members of Congress are isolated because they go from meeting to meeting and from dinners to conferences.

“We’re not living normal lives. I think having fresh perspectives come in is the best thing for the system,” Donalds said.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, called McMorris Rodgers and Gallagher “serious legislators who want to make things right.”

“It’s pretty clear, if you’re holding a gavel and to say you’re leaving, and you’re not term-limited, I think it speaks volumes for where their side of the chamber is. And it’s unfortunate, but that’s where we are,” Aguilar said.

The number of lawmakers retiring at the end of this term or seeking higher office stands at 44, with Democrats making up 23 of those members and Republicans 21. Republican Rep. Richard Hudson, the chair of the House Republican campaign arm, said all of the GOP members leaving are in safe Republican seats, but that some of the Democratic retirements would lead to “flips for us.”

“I’m not concerned about it,” Hudson said.

Heye, the Republican strategist, said the retirements of McMorris Rodgers, Green and Gallagher wouldn’t make sense in normal times.

“It just makes sense in this current context of a broken Congress that can’t do the good, normal work that it should be doing,” Heye said.

He also doubted they would have many regrets about leaving.

“Every ex-member you talk to who is of some import, they’re all happier now,” Heye said. “They all see greener pastures now.”

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