On Wednesday, Representative Peter A. DeFazio, of Oregon, announced that he would rather retire from the House after 35 years than seek reelection next year. He joins the growing number of Democrats who have decided to leave Congress in light of a grim midterm election.
Mr. DeFazio’s announcement brought to 19 the number of House Democrats who have indicated that they will either retire from politics or seek other political offices before contests that could end their party control in the House. They can only spare three votes. This is his third resignation as a committee leader, adding to the loss of decades of institutional knowledge and experience that Democrats will be dealing with in the next Congress.
“It’s time for me to pass the baton to the next generation so I can focus on my health and well-being,” Mr. DeFazio said in a statement announcing his plans. “This was a tough decision at a challenging time for our republic with the very pillars of our democracy under threat, but I am bolstered by the passion and principles of my colleagues in Congress and the ingenuity and determination of young Americans who are civically engaged and working for change.”
DeFazio, Oregon’s longest-serving House lawmaker, has helped to shape decades of transportation policy and infrastructure policy. He has pushed for stronger climate mitigation and increased environmental protections throughout his state and the country. DeFazio also led a congressional inquiry into the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft accidents.
DeFazio’s proposal for a massive infrastructure bill was rejected this year. Instead, a bipartisan product was negotiated by a group consisting of Republican and Democratic senators. This frustrated and angered Mr. DeFazio as well as his allies. However, the legislation was passed by Mr. DeFazio, almost every other House Democrat, and he praised its passage as a career-defining achievement.
“For decades, the people of southwest Oregon have had an outstanding champion for jobs, clean energy and conservation,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement on Wednesday, calling Mr. DeFazio “an absolute force for progress.”
“Our Democratic caucus will miss a trusted voice and valued friend,” she added.
Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, a Democrat, stated that Mr. DeFazio would leave an “astonishing legacy” in all things transportation and infrastructure. (Mr. Blumenauer also said that “he’s earned a little more rationality, with the worst commute out of anyone in the Oregon delegation.
Republicans pointed out Mr. DeFazio’s retirement plans as evidence of their advantage going into the 2022 elections. This is because House committee chairmen are more likely to leave Congress than to return to the minority chamber, where they have little power.
Two other top Democrats — Representatives John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the Budget Committee, and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the chairwoman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee — have announced their plans to retire.
“Committee chairs don’t retire unless they know their majority is gone,” said Courtney Parella, a spokeswoman for the House Republican campaign arm. “Nancy Pelosi’s days as speaker are numbered.”
Twelve House Republicans have declared that they won’t be seeking re-election. Only a handful of them intends to run for another office.
Nearly immediately after Mr. DeFazio announced his retirement, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (the only non-voting delegate from the District of Columbia) announced plans to run for the top spot on this panel.