Mar 27, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House wracked by dysfunction as members plot exits

Illustration of a turnstyle with the US Capitol dome on top.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The House continues to hemorrhage membership as it struggles with infighting, dysfunction and a lack of productivity that has infuriated lawmakers in both parties.

Why it matters: A string of early Republican resignations has brought the chamber to the brink of flipping to Democrats. It may not stop there.

  • One House Republican told Axios they have "heard a few" colleagues muse about leaving early, quipping, "Heck… even I'd have to consider."
  • "Most all of us are contemplating leaving," said another GOP lawmaker.

Between the lines: Retiring members point to both the recent chaos and a longstanding drop in productivity and bipartisanship, with House Republicans privately complaining about their more bombastic colleagues.

  • "We are sacrificing time away from family and making more money in the private sector for the vanity of a few people (on both sides) that want to raise money and their media profiles," said one House Republican.
  • "The vast majority of members came to make a difference. We understand the utility of posturing and politics for the goal of governing. That's not what's going on anymore though. The inmates are running the asylum," the lawmaker added.
  • "Some of these folks prefer the ease of being in a minority. No need to govern," another House Republican said.

The other side: There is no shortage of anger within the House Republican conference towards those who have opted to leave early.

  • "Any Republican elected official who voluntarily leaves office prior to the end of their term (unless for health reasons) is putting America in a very dangerous position," Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said in a text to Axios.

The latest: Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), the chair of the powerful New Democrat Coalition, is the latest to announce her retirement after more than a decade in Congress.

  • While Kuster listed numerous reasons for leaving in an interview with Axios – a natural endpoint as she nears 70 years old, a desire to let younger members shine – she acknowledged the recent chaos as a factor.
  • "Of course, the dysfunction impacts our lives," she said, noting the 10 straight weeks lawmakers were in D.C. last year as they scrambled to keep the government funded and fill a speaker vacancy.
  • Kuster also pointed to retiring Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.): "She has dozens of bipartisan bills backed up in our committee that she cannot get to the floor."

By the numbers: More than two dozen House Democrats and House Republicans, roughly a dozen each, are leaving Congress this year without immediate plans to run for higher office.

  • Another dozen Democrats and five Republicans are leaving as they seek, or unsuccessfully sought, higher office.
  • Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), after announcing plans to retire, decided to cut his tenure short and resign last week. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) will follow suit next month.
  • Republicans will be down to just 217 seats to Democrats' 213 when Gallagher leaves, with Democrats poised to pick up another seat in an April special election.

Zoom out: Kuster pointed to Jan. 6 – and the subsequent distrust between Democrats and Republicans – as an inflection point. "Since that day, the dynamic has changed," she said.

  • "We are witnessing the demise of the Republican Party, certainly as we've known it in my lifetime," she added, arguing Democratic leadership will get "the House to function again" if they take the majority.
  • "I mean holy smokes," Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said of Buck and Gallagher. "I think it's a lot when members who have spoken ... against things that are happening within their conference are not just retiring at notably young ages, [but resigning]."
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