It’s been only about a month since we last checked on which members of the U.S. House of Representatives are retiring, but already 10 more have announced their intention to leave office. Eight of those outgoing members are Democrats, too, which may speak to a lack of confidence about the party’s standing heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
As I’ve written before, members of the president’s party often leave Capitol Hill during a midterm cycle because they expect the next election to go poorly. The president’s party almost always loses House seats in midterm elections, and the more unpopular presidents are, the more ground their party tends to lose in the House. Considering President Biden’s approval rating sits in the low 40s less than 10 months before the election, 2022 could sting particularly badly for Democrats.
It’s no surprise then that more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans, 28 to 13, have decided to either retire or run for another office at this point.
|District||Representative||Party||Why they’re leaving||Partisan lean|
|CA-37||Karen Bass||D||Mayoral run||D+68.5|
|TX-30||Eddie Bernice Johnson||D||Retiring||D+55.8|
|MD-04||Anthony Brown||D||Atty. Gen. run||D+54.2|
|VT-AL||Peter Welch||D||Senate run||D+27.5|
|FL-10||Val Demings||D||Senate run||D+20.8|
|NY-03||Tom Suozzi||D||Governor run||D+6.2|
|OH-13||Tim Ryan||D||Senate run||D+0.3|
|FL-13||Charlie Crist||D||Governor run||R+1.0|
|PA-17||Conor Lamb||D||Senate run||R+2.3|
|NY-01||Lee Zeldin||R||Governor run||R+9.6|
|GA-10||Jody Hice||R||Sec. State run||R+27.8|
|AL-05||Mo Brooks||R||Senate run||R+32.4|
|NC-13||Ted Budd||R||Senate run||R+38.2|
|MO-04||Vicky Hartzler||R||Senate run||R+39.3|
|MO-07||Billy Long||R||Senate run||R+47.7|
|TX-01||Louie Gohmert||R||Atty. Gen. run||R+50.3|
Republicans stand to gain from these exits, too, as many Democratic incumbents have abandoned more competitive turf, which could make it easier for the GOP to capture those districts. Just how many swings seats these retirements have left open isn’t straightforward, though, because redistricting is still in progress. Nonetheless, 26 of the 41 outgoing members come from states that have completed the redistricting process, and those departures have left seven potentially competitive seats open so far — all in districts currently represented by Democrats.
It isn’t far-fetched, either, that Republicans could win all seven seats in a Republican-leaning midterm environment. In fact, some more Democratic-leaning seats might be on the table, too, if things go really well for Republicans. (Remember, the GOP doesn’t need to pick up that many seats to regain a majority in the House; they need to win just five more seats.)1
As for the seven Democratic-held open seats that could be promising for Republicans, Colorado’s 7th District, held by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, is perhaps the most notable recent entry in this category. Perlmutter’s retirement is an especially negative signal for Democrats’ midterm chances because it could put a Democratic-leaning seat in play, one that’s going to be more receptive to the GOP, too, thanks to redistricting. Colorado’s new map makes the seat about 6 points more Democratic than the country as a whole, per FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric — down from a far less competitive D+15 on the current map.2
Beyond Perlmutter’s seat, the six other districts include two highly competitive seats in Illinois and North Carolina (those of Reps. Cheri Bustos and G.K. Butterfield, respectively), a Democratic-leaning but potentially competitive seat in Oregon (held by Rep. Peter DeFazio) and what is now a Republican-leaning seat in Arizona (held by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick). Texas Rep. Filemón Vela’s retirement also falls into this category, even though his seat became much bluer in the redistricting process. That’s because neighboring Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is now running in Vela’s more heavily Democratic district, leaving his toss-up seat next door without a strong Democratic incumbent. Similarly, California Rep. Jerry McNerney’s retirement led fellow Democratic Rep. Josh Harder to run in McNerney’s D+8 seat instead of a D+7 seat next door, leaving a blue-leaning seat potentially vulnerable in a favorable year for the GOP.
The maps may not yet be final in the states of the 15 other departing members from both parties, but it currently looks like mostly bad news for Democrats here, too. It’s unclear whether Republican mapmakers in Florida will draw Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s Orlando-area seat as a toss-up or a Republican-leaning district, but at the very least, the seat is going to become less hospitable to Democrats. Not far away, in St. Petersburg, it also looks like the successor seat to Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist’s current district will likely end up being highly competitive, too. And outside Florida, at least a couple of other still-undrawn seats may be toss-ups at best for Democrats, such as Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb’s district in western Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind’s seat in western Wisconsin.
For Republicans, only one recently announced departure could cost them a seat: On Jan. 14, Republican Rep. John Katko of New York announced his departure from Congress. This is bad news for the GOP because Katko’s central New York congressional district is Democratic-leaning turf (D+4 under the current lines). And with Democrats positioned to draw the lines in New York, they no longer have to worry about Katko’s ability to strongly outperform the GOP’s baseline in the region, which means they may not feel compelled to make that seat much bluer in order to give their party a better shot of winning it.
The fact that Democratic mapmakers may have drawn a tougher seat for Katko likely contributed to his retirement decision, but it’s also possible that the antipathy he felt from his own party also pushed him out the door. Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Trump, Katko is now the third to retire. (Trump celebrated Katko’s retirement, saying, “Great news, another one bites the dust.”) But voting to impeach the former president wasn’t the only party foul Katko committed. He also earned conservative enmity for backing the bipartisan infrastructure plan and legislation to set up a committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. It’s why Katko’s departure is significant beyond its electoral ramifications; it’s the latest signal of a GOP, especially within the House, that will hew even more closely to Trump.
Redistricting, though, likely played at least some role in a handful of other recent retirements, too. Most notably, Michigan’s new map split Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s current district among three seats, and she opted to retire instead of seeking reelection, which has thrown open the possibility that Michigan won’t have a Black House member in the next Congress, despite the sizable Black population in the Detroit area — as recently as 2017, Michigan had two Black members from the region. Meanwhile, California’s new map placed two incumbents, Democratic Reps. Alan Lowenthal and Lucille Roybal-Allard, into the same deep-blue, Los Angeles-area seat, and neither decided to stick around. Then again, given that Democrats will easily retain this seat, their retirements may have come down more to the candidates’ age — they’re both 80 years old — and the fact that Democrats don’t have a great chance of keeping control of the House. Those factors could also help explain the retirement decisions of longtime Democratic Reps. Bobby Rush of Illinois, Albio Sires of New Jersey and Jim Langevin of Rhode Island, who are departing despite holding strongly Democratic districts.
Retirements won’t determine the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections in the House, but they do provide a signal that Democrats believe they are in a poor electoral position. Although politicians aren’t necessarily good pundits, their attitude is understandable considering Biden’s approval rating and the trajectory of generic-ballot polling. And more retirements could still be on the way, as only one state — Texas — has passed its candidate filing deadline, so stay tuned.