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The GOP's crisis of quitting

Rep. Trey Gowdy leaving the Capitol
Rep. Trey Gowdy leaving the Capitol in 2015. Photo: Al Drago / CQ Roll Call

With increasing expectations of a Democratic wave in November's midterm elections, the Republican Party is facing a record number of retirements in the House of Representatives — and it’s only February 1. In perhaps the biggest tell, eight GOP committee chairs have announced their retirements from politics.

Why it matters: There is no surer sign of GOP fear of the midterm outcome — and no surer example of how even the most powerful jobs feel like a drag in this era of dysfunctional governance — than people in power racing for the exits. 

Worth noting: The majority of the retiring committee chairs have been term-limited out of their positions. GOP rules limit House chairmen to six years, a Newt Gingrich-era relic of a rule designed to increase the power of the Speaker of the House that was carried over by John Boehner in 2010 before the GOP's midterm wave later that year.

  • But there's no telling if the term-limited chairs might have chosen to stay in the House had they been able to keep their powerful positions.
  • One more thing: Research indicates that the term limits rule limits the effectiveness of committee chairs and could make Congress function more poorly, per The Washington Post.

The chairmen heading for the exits:

  • Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ), Appropriations Committee, assumed position in January 2017
  • Bob Goodlatte (VA), Judiciary Committee, term-limited
  • Trey Gowdy (SC), Oversight Committee, assumed position in June 2017
  • Gregg Harper (MS), Administration Committee, assumed position in January 2017
  • Jeb Hensarling (TX), Financial Services Committee, term-limited
  • Ed Royce (CA), Foreign Affairs Committee, term-limited
  • Bill Shuster (PA), Transportation Committee, term-limited
  • Lamar Smith (TX), Science, Space, and Technology Committee, term-limited

A bonus exit: Rep. Diane Black left her position as chair of the Budget Committee earlier this month — which she assumed in January 2017 — to focus on her run for Tennessee governor this fall.