Retirement toasts are on the menu around Capitol Hill.
On Thursday, four members of Congress announced their plans to leave their posts or had their exit confirmed to POLITICO, adding to the dozen-plus legislators who have said they will depart elected office in 2024. More are almost certainly in the pipeline.
The exits come as this year’s legislative calendar approaches its final stretch and as filing deadlines to run for office next year swing around, squeezing out those who aren’t quite willing to stick around for more Hill fights or who have their eyes set on different sights.
The flurry of departures also arrives as expected close battles between Democrats and Republicans to take control of both chambers of Congress approach in 2024 — Republicans narrowly hold the House, 221-212, while Democrats and allied independents have a narrow majority of 51 seats in the upper chamber. Across the country, those fights will play out against the backdrop of a historic presidential contest between an unpopular Democratic incumbent and a similarly unliked Republican former president, all as divisions over social issues — specifically, abortion rights — remain politically hot.
Their announcements add to the eight members of the House who have already announced plans to leave public office, while five on the Senate side are also looking to the exits — six, if you include the newly appointed Democratic senator from California, Laphonza Butler, who will not run for a full term. Additionally, thirteen House members are seeking a different office, mostly on the other side of the Capitol, while one senator, Republican Mike Braun of Indiana, is seeking the governor’s office back home.
Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) were the new House names added to the list on Thursday. The three hold seats that should stay in the hands of their respective parties, not adding to the troubles of the political class already gearing up for what will surely be a grueling election season.
Kilmer, 49, and Wenstrup, 65, announced their news on Thursday, while a person familiar with Higgins’ plans confirmed his impending retirement — expected to take place in January — to POLITICO after local news reported it earlier in the day. Kilmer and Wenstrup both cited a desire to spend more time with family, while Higgins, 64, is expected to take a spot leading a local performing arts center. That announcement is expected as soon as next week, the person familiar with his plans said.
“All too often the frantic pace of Washington has kept me away from our home,” Wenstrup, who holds coveted spots on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, said Thursday evening in a prerecorded video. “I’m ready to change that.”
But the biggest earthquake of the day came hours earlier, in the form of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announcing his intention to depart Congress, leaving in his wake a Democratic Party that now faces a rockier path than ever to hold its slim majority in the upper chamber. His party has no real shot at holding on to the deep-red seat.
After wielding outsize power in a closely divided Senate during the Biden presidency — and getting attacked for slowing it down at times — Manchin, 76, said he was ready to look for new ways to bring Americans together in his future years. He didn’t explicitly rule out a presidential bid of his own, amid months of flirting and political whispers that he could launch a campaign with No Labels, the centrist third-party group that is hoping to have a presence on the presidential ballot.
“Over most of the past decade, each time I boarded the plane to DC, I would email my kids, Sophie and Aven, to explain to them why I was leaving — and what I’d be working on while we were apart,” Kilmer said in his retirement statement. “As nourishing as this job has been, it has come with profound costs to my family.”
“Every theatrical performance and musical recital I missed. Every family dinner that I wasn’t there for. The distance I felt from my family for months after the events of January 6th,” he added, referring to the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol that aimed to overturn the 2020 election results.
The members’ exit from Congress will allow them to escape the nasty campaigns that will descend upon the country next year. In recent years, divisiveness and partisanship have accelerated retirement decisions from some lawmakers. In the past, more than 30 members of Congress announced plans not to run in both the 2020 and 2022 elections.
Nick Reisman contributed to this report.
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