The wave of Republicans vacating seats in Congress continued this month when Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced he would not run for re-election. Congressional retirements are expected the year before an election; however, this year, Republicans in both houses are retiring at disproportionate rates to Democrats. To date, 41 House Republicans are retiring in contrast to 19 House Democrats. In the Senate, 4 Republicans are retiring compared to 1 Democrat respectively.
The explanations behind the high retirement numbers vary. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have cited blatant dissatisfaction with the Trump Administration. The recent upset victories of Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) and Rep. Connor Lamb (D-PA) in Trump territories this year has paused a few re-election bids in some Trump and Clinton territories. Personal scandal has forced out a few House members from both sides of the political aisle.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chair of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations, cited his declining personal health as the reason for his departure and recently Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) assumed that role. With Cochran’s announcement, pundits have speculated whether Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has been in and out of the hospital, will also announce plans to retire. Others, such as Speaker Ryan, say they simply want to spend more time with their family. Many House Members, including 14 Republicans and 8 Democrats are retiring to continue their public service by running for higher office.
One factor specific to Republicans is that the party enforced three consecutive term-limit (6 years) on committee chairmanship. A few retiring Republicans who are committee chairs will reach their term limit in 2019.
The wave of departing Republicans leaves several powerful committee and subcommittee chair positions open in both the Senate and the House. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) departure opens the chair position on the Senate Committee on Finance.
A small number of Ranking Member positions will open, such as the Ranking Member position on the House Committee on Appropriations due to the departure of Rep. Bob Brady (D-PA).
Nine House committees will lose chairs; however, the following eleven committees remain secure: Agriculture, Armed Services, Budget, Education and the Workforce, Energy and Commerce, Ethics, Homeland Security, Natural Resources, Rules, Small Business, and Ways and Means.
Leadership positions in both parties and in both bodies of Congress remain intact, except for Speaker of the House. Since Ryan’s announcement, Republicans such as Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) are reportedly eyeing the position. Ultimately, the 116th Congress could have a very different power structure. More information will surface closer to Midterm elections in November.