On Politics With Lisa Lerer: Why House Republicans Are Bailing

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin determined it was “time to step back.” Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin attributed his own decision to leave Congress to his soon-to-arrive ninth child. And Representative Bill Flores of Texas, who is also not seeking re-election, said he wanted to get back to his work in the oil and gas industry.

But as the Republicans’ retirements continue to mount, with two more House members announcing their decision to step down on Wednesday, you have to wonder if these decisions are less about spending time with their families and more about spending time far away from Congress.

Seventeen Republican lawmakers have already announced their decisions not to run for re-election next year, retiring from Congress at a faster pace than the 40 Republicans who called it quits before the 2018 midterm elections. Only four Democrats have said they won’t be running in 2020.

The retirements are a public manifestation of long-simmering private frustrations from some House Republicans, who have griped about spending much of the past year fending off a stream of chaos headed their way from the White House, despite the fact that they have little actual power in a chamber they don’t control.

As one Republican who retired last year told me today: “What’s the point? How fulfilling is this job going to be if we don’t do anything? And it’s hard to run for office with someone on the ticket above you who’s doing everything he can to make life miserable for you. There’s no winning in that scenario.”

Republicans, of course, don’t voice this critique publicly for fear of getting in the cross-hairs of their base, which continues to overwhelmingly support the president. But the reality is that being in the minority is a whole lot less satisfying than controlling the chamber and the legislative agenda. A number of the soon-to-be retirees are also term-limited out of their powerful perches as the ranking members of House committees. That’s the reason the Republican House campaign arm gave for many of the departures, which a spokesman called “a healthy dose of turnover.”

But the decision by more than a dozen House Republicans not to run again points to other worrying trends for their party, suggesting that dreams of reclaiming control of the House are drifting further away. Record departures after the party lost control of the House in 2006 allowed Democrats to expand their majority two years later, providing a margin that helped President Barack Obama pass the health care bill.

This round of retirements includes two of the 13 Republican women in the House and the only African-American Republican, at a time when the party is trying to recruit more diverse candidates.

So many Texans have opted against running — nearly a quarter of the state’s delegation — that Democrats are calling the phenomenon a “Texosus,” saying the retirements demonstrate how the Lone Star State is shifting in their favor. At least three of the retiring Texans already faced tough re-election fights in narrowly Republican districts.

None of those races are likely to get any easier for Republicans without the power of incumbency.


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Lisa Friedman, a reporter on The Times’s climate team, joined us for coverage of Wednesday’s TV town hall devoted to climate change. Here’s her quick recap, for those who didn’t have seven hours to watch 10 candidates.

It can no longer be said that climate change is a back-burner political issue.

After a seven-hour marathon forum on Wednesday night in which 10 Democratic presidential candidates put forward their ideas for tackling global warming, the issue seems to have catapulted to the top of the political agenda.

Now that we have some distance from the forum, what stands out was how truly substantive it was. Sure, there was plenty of talk about hamburgers, plastic straws and government-mandated light bulbs. But overall, the back-to-back interviews on CNN provided what might have been the most thoughtful and sustained discussion of climate policy ever heard on national television.

Some important things we learned: Every top Democratic candidate for president has a serious plan for dealing with emissions and moving the United States to carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest. They differ on key areas, like the extent to which nuclear energy should be a tool in decarbonizing the country and how fast to move away from natural gas. But the fact that most of the candidates onstage embraced some form of pricing carbon dioxide pollution — which economists say is the most efficient way to reduce planet-warming pollution, but which is deeply politically polarizing — is just one measure of how far the party’s consensus on this issue has come.

Want more? Read our five takeaways here.


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