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DC, the Core

Congressional Resignations on the Rise

Posted March 29, 2024 at 5:00 PM EDT
The great resignation hits Congress, why is that happening? What consequences will these resignations have on Congress? What are the lawmakers’ next steps after leaving Congress?

Washington, D.C., is bustling with tourists these two weeks who have come to see the cherry blossoms. Inside Capitol Hill, however, it seems relatively quiet compared to the busy downtown area.

Congress has been on recess for two weeks as lawmakers return to their hometowns for spring break. Unlike in previous years, some of them will not come back after recess: They quit.

Last Friday, Rep. Mike Gallagher(R-WI) announced his resignation. One week earlier, Rep. Ken Buck(R-CO) also stepped down.

Gallagher is the chairman of the select committee investigating the Chinese Communist Party. It’s highly unusual for a committee chairman to resign in the middle of a term. As for Buck, he quit Congress without even telling his party leaders.

House Speaker Mike Johnson(R-LA) lost two strong party colleagues within a month and was not informed promptly when it happened. This adds another blow to him, who has been struggling to govern and demonstrate stability in this Congress.

With Gallagher’s resignation, House Republicans will be left with a margin of just one vote. This means that Republicans could only afford a single defection on any vote if Democrats voted unitedly. One vote, period.

The trend of resignations began last May when David Cicilline(D-RI) stepped down to become the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.

Later the same month, Chris Stewart(R-UT) quit the job. He said he was retiring from Congress in order to care for his wife’s health. However, less than a month after his announcement, he launched a DC-based lobbying firm.

Late last year, Brian Higgins(D-NY) quit to return home to assume the role of CEO for a Buffalo performing arts center. While Republican Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio left to take over as president of Youngstown State University.

These next steps sound more appealing than serving as a Congressman, with many offering higher pay. A rank-and-file Congressman earns $174,000 annually. In contrast, Cicilline’s new role at the Rhode Island Foundation will nearly quadruple his lawmaker salary.

Money matters. But it's obviously not the only reason lawmakers are quitting. Deep frustration with Congress is the main driver behind their resignations.

For example, despite Buck’s past as a renegade conservative, he has distanced himself from his far-right colleagues ideologically. Additionally, he couldn’t tolerate the internal GOP chaos, which turns the House a legislative ghost town.

Upon resigning, he told reporters, “This place just keeps going downhill, and I don’t need to spend my time here.”

When Higgins stepped down last year, he voiced similar concerns:

“It’s all individuals that have weaponized the legislation-making process…And this is where I think the current leadership of the House has failed miserably,” he said when interviewed by the New York Times.

In the House, the 118th Congress seemed dysfunctional right from the start. It took them 15 ballots to elect a speaker, only to oust him less than a year later. Moreover, it has been the least productive in decades. By the end of last year, the House has voted 749 times in 2023, but only 27 bills passed into law.

Besides the six quitters, 46 members of the House have announced retirement, opting out of re-election. However, they will at least complete their terms, unlike those who escape in the middle of theirs.

Certainly, across the nation, candidates from diverse career backgrounds are actively running for Congress. We genuinely hope that voters can make informed decisions to elect lawmakers who prioritize their constituents’ needs rather than choosing politicians who solely focus on partisan interests. This way, Congress can reclaim its role as a legislative branch and restore Americans’ confidence in democracy.

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