By Russell Berman for The Atlantic

If you want to see a political wave forming a year before an election, watch the retirements.

They’re often a leading indicator for which direction a party is headed, and so far, 2018 is shaping up ominously for Republicans. On Thursday evening, Representative Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania withdrew from his bid for reelection following the revelation that he settled a claim of sexual harassment made against him by a former staffer. Meehan’s exit opens up yet another GOP seat in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, giving Democrats a strong chance at a pick-up.

Several other veterans in competitive districts are also calling it quits, depriving the GOP of the advantage of incumbency in races that could determine control of the House in 2019. And more retirements may be on the way, as lawmakers make their final decisions about running ahead of their respective primaries.

At the same time, a wave of allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior has scrambled the retirement picture in both parties, and it’s forced several lawmakers to leave Congress early. In addition to Meehan, Republican Representatives Blake Farenthold and Joe Barton of Texas, and Democratic Representative Ruben Kihuen of Nevada have abandoned reelection campaigns after misconduct allegations. Scandals have already forced the immediate resignations of Democratic Senator Al Franken and long-serving Representative John Conyers among Democrats, as well as GOP Representatives Trent Franks and Tim Murphy. More could be on the way as new allegations come to light.

As for those getting out in 2018, President Trump’s low approval rating and Congress’s meager legislative output may be contributing to the decisions of some Republicans to retire, including moderate Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, and Dave Reichert of Washington state. But there are other factors at play. Unlike Democrats, Republicans have rules limiting the terms of their committee chairmen to ensure turnover and give younger members a chance to advance in the House. Congress isn’t as fun with less power, and six of the seven departing GOP committee leaders would be forced out of their roles and to the back bench in 2019.

The trend to this point gives a distinct edge to the Democrats. While roughly the same number of lawmakers in both parties are leaving their seats to run for higher office, just seven House Democrats are retiring outright or have already resigned, compared with 22 Republicans. (House members running for other offices often count as retirements, because it’s usually impractical or illegal to run for multiple positions at the same time.) Including those members who are leaving to run for another office, there will be 15 open House seats vacated by Democrats and 33 for Republicans. Democratic victories last November in gubernatorial and state legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey could spur more retirements among Republicans worried about the national political environment under Trump.

And although Democrats must defend far more Senate seats than Republicans in 2018—including several in states that Donald Trump won—all of the party’s incumbents are currently running for reelection. The retirements of Corker and Flake, along with a Democratic victory in December’s special election in Alabama, give Democrats an outside chance at retaking the Senate majority. In the House, they’ll need to pick up 24 seats, and the more Republicans retire in districts that Hillary Clinton carried last year, the more the GOP majority is at risk.

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