Toxic Political Environment Leads to Wave of Congressional Retirements

According to Ballotpedia, a dozen lawmakers announced their retirement in November, contributing to an unprecedented rate of departures from Congress across both political parties. The surge in departures comes amidst a bitter power struggle within the Republican Party over government spending, which led to the ousting of Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

The infighting and toxic political environment have taken a toll on lawmakers, with many citing frustration and disillusionment as reasons for their decision to step down. This trend marks a significant shift from earlier this year when retirements were largely driven by politicians seeking higher office.

The recent high-profile departure of Republican Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio further underscores the growing number of retirements. Johnson, 69, announced that he will be leaving office early next year to assume the role of president at Youngstown State University. The ongoing turmoil within the Republican Party has paralyzed the House, leaving lawmakers weary and disenchanted with the current state of affairs. The toxic environment, further marked by name-calling and social media battles, has added to the frustrations of both Democrats and Republicans.

Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan, a six-term lawmaker who previously served as the Democrats’ chief deputy whip, described the past few years in Congress as one of the most difficult and frustrating periods of his professional career. Kildee, 65, announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election, noting that it was hard to overlook the chaos he experienced when making his decision.

While retirements earlier this year were driven by ambitions for higher office, the recent wave of departures signals a growing belief among lawmakers that Congress is simply not an effective and productive arena anymore. Republican Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, a 10-term congressman, highlighted the need for change, expressing his dissatisfaction with spending more time doing less in a dysfunctional legislative environment. Higgins, 64, plans to leave Congress in early February to lead a Buffalo performing arts center.

Of the lawmakers who announced their retirements in November, only one, Democrat Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, hopes to seek higher office by running for governor. The majority of retiring lawmakers are planning to serve at local organizations or retire from public service or have yet to decide on their next steps. As of this week, a total of 36 House lawmakers won’t be part of the next Congress, as reported by the House press gallery. The number aligns closely with the historical average, but it’s possible that more retirements could be announced before the end of the current Congress.

The speaker’s fight and the battles over government spending have had a direct impact on the rising trend of retirements. Lawmakers from both parties have described a highly partisan environment fueled by social media, where the desire for online attention often overshadowed serious legislative efforts. Additionally, personal reasons, such as a desire to be closer to family, have also influenced some lawmakers’ decisions to leave Congress. As the wave of retirements continues, the future composition and effectiveness of Congress remain uncertain.