The number of House members deciding to retire has already exceeded the average for recent election cycles, and more could be coming as lawmakers return to the nation’s capital after the holidays.
Since 1976, an average of 23 House members have retired each two-year election cycle, according to CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales, the publisher of Inside Elections. In 2019 alone, however, 27 House members announced they will retire, opting not to run for reelection nor for another office (these figures do not include lawmakers who have resigned or died while in office).
More than three times as many Republicans, many of whom are serving in the minority for the first time, decided to retire as Democrats. Twenty-one Republicans are retiring while six Democrats are heading for the exits.
Nine lawmakers — eight Republicans and one Democrat — are leaving districts that could be competitive races in 2020, according to Inside Elections’ race ratings. Their exits could be a problem for the parties looking to hold onto their seats, since incumbents tend to have advantages in name recognition and fundraising.
Two North Carolina Republicans, Mark Walker and George Holding, decided to retire after a new congressional map made their districts more Democratic. Both lawmakers signaled they could run for office again in the future.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy noted at a Politico Playbook event last month that most of the Republicans retiring represent districts that President Donald Trump carried handily in 2016. Asked why the lawmakers are retiring, McCarthy said, “They’ve been here a long time.”
But the high number of retirements in solidly Republican districts has still raised questions about whether party veterans do not want to run on the same ballot as Trump, or have concluded the GOP will not win back the House in 2020. Republicans need a net gain of 18 seats to win the majority.
Although the number of House retirements is above average so far, McCarthy noted the 2018 cycle saw an unusually high number of retirements, especially from lawmakers in competitive seats. Thirty-three lawmakers retired in the 2018 cycle, including 23 Republicans and 10 Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
More to come?
Some lawmakers decide to retire after spending time with their families during the holidays, so there could be more announcements as members of Congress return next week.
Early in 2019, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put out a “retirement watch” list of 23 Republicans, most in districts the DCCC sees as potential pickup opportunities. So far, two of those lawmakers resigned and six announced their retirements.
Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton is on the DCCC’s watch list and is often mentioned as a potential retirement. Upton has not said whether he is running for reelection, although he has some time to announce his decision since the Michigan filing deadline is April 21.
State deadlines to file to get on the ballot are often key factors in when members announce retirements. The early deadline last month in Texas explained in part why several Lone Star lawmakers announced their retirements, although Democrats cheered the “Texodus” as a sign that Texas Republicans did not believe they could win reelection.
Filing deadlines in six other states have already passed — Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, California, Ohio and North Carolina. Twenty-two states have filing deadlines between January and March, with 16 deadlines in March alone.
Lindsey McPherson and Griffin Connolly contributed to this report.