The shock retirement announcement by Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio on Wednesday provides clear evidence that senior members of the Democratic Party expect next year’s midterm election to drive them out of the majority.
“This was a tough decision at a challenging time for our republic with the very pillars of our democracy under threat, but I am bolstered by the passion and principles of my colleagues in Congress and the ingenuity and determination of young Americans who are civically engaged and working for change,” DeFazio said, announcing his decision.
Here’s the thing: DeFazio is the sitting chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – one of the most powerful perches in the House.
Democrats don’t have term limits on their committee chairs (Republicans do) which means that DeFazio could have easily served as chairman for as long as he wanted – assuming that Democrats stayed in the majority.
It’s that last part that’s the rub. Someone like DeFazio only walks away now – barring any unannounced health issues – if he think that there is a high likelihood that he will find himself in the minority come 2023.
And, by the way, he’s not the only committee chair heading for the exits. Late last month Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the chair of the House Science Committee, announced she would retire at the end of this Congress. And earlier this year, Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, chair of the Budget Committee, also said he would step aside at the end of 2022.
DeFazio is the 19th Democrat to announce plans to leave the House. Just 11 Republicans have done the same. That pace of Democratic retirements is more than double what it was two years ago when just eight Democrats had announced they would leave the chamber by early December.
The whispers about the long-shot chances Democrats have to keep their ultra-slim House majority next fall have grown into shouts.
And unfortunately for the party, they are now caught in a vicious cycle. Wavering members look at a decidedly dark national political environment and decide to retire on their own terms. Those retirements, in turn, trigger an even more brutal political environment. Which leads other skittish members to pass … and, well, on and on it goes.
The Point: Democrats are now exactly where they don’t want to be – clinging to a narrow majority with members jumping ship all around them.