With the announced retirements of Republican Reps. Ed Whitfield and Randy Neugebauer, in late September, and John Boehner’s decision to resign his Ohio seat after relinquishing the speakership this month, the number of GOP lawmakers exiting the House in 2016 is now 13.
Although that number is relatively common for departing House members just a year before the elections, what is particularly dramatic is the brief tenure of so many Republican members at a time when the GOP holds its largest number of seats in the House since 1928.
Indiana’s Reps. Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young, both of whom are vying for the open Senate seat in the Hoosier State next year, came to Washington together as part of the 70-plus “Class of 2010” that resulted in the huge GOP capture of the House that year.
So did New York’s Chris Gibson, who is leaving Congress now to plan a bid for governor in 2018, and Michigan’s Dan Benishek, a physician and non-politician whose tea party-fueled odyssey to Congress against elected officials of both parties was chronicled in news forums as far away as France’s venerable “Liberaccion” journal.
So why, I asked pundits as well as key former members themselves, are these Republican U.S. Representatives calling it quits after so short a career in the House?
“Frustration,” was the one-word reply of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Former Rep. Bob Walker, one of Gingrich’s key lieutenants when he assumed the speaker’s gavel in 1994, agreed. As he put it, “There is a feeling that members do not get to really get to participate in legislating and governing.”
“I think they’re weary after five years of frustration,” said Michael Barone, co-author of "The Almanac of American Politics." “The odd thing is that Obama won't be president and Harry Reid won't be Senate Democratic leader in 16 months, so Republicans may have more opportunity to shape policy.”
“I think in many cases Republican members of Congress felt betrayed by their own leadership, “said veteran North Carolina GOP consultant Marc Rotterman, “Especially since 2010.
“They ran that year on repealing and replacing Obamacare, on reversing Obama executive amnesty and on reducing the size of our national debt. But when push came to shove, Boehner and his leadership team were unwilling to go the mat against Obama.
"The threat of the government shut down and the media myth of the disastrous political implications had the ‘establishment Republicans’ afraid of their own shadow.
“So in the minds of many, nothing got done. Many most likely came to the conclusion that they were not having an impact nor helping to advance a conservative agenda.”
Two past chairmen of the National Republican Congressional Committee offered disparate views on the exodus of junior Republican House members from the Republican-controlled House.
“There is no fun or prestige being part of a dysfunctional institution the public feels is in decline,” former Rep. Tom Davis, who chaired the NRCC from 1998-2004, told me. “With the House unable to produce a legislative product and surrendering power of the purse and ability to designate projects, the Executive branch has filled the vacuum.”
But Davis’ predecessor as head of the campaign arm, former Rep. John Linder, offered another opinion. He recalled that in the early days of the House in Republican hands under Gingrich in the 1990s, the limiting committee chairmen to three two-year terms had unintended consequences.
“It led to legislation being written in the speaker’s or leader’s office, further reducing the influence of the committees, and that also became a habit,” he said. "So, limits on power for chairs replaced a system that was controlled by the interest groups at the committee level with a system controlled by the party’s whiners at the leadership level and the chairs didn’t have the clout to defend their prerogatives.
“All of the above served to reduce the opportunity for the average member to influence the process. If you can’t accomplish what you set out to do and the salary is no big attraction and what was once an honorable and highly respected position no longer is . . . why not get out and do something with your life?”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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