Rep. Darrell Issa announced Wednesday he’ll retire from Congress at the end of this term, adding yet another senior Republican to the list of those calling it quits.
Mr. Issa, a former committee chairman, joins a half-dozen current chairman and a number of other longtime legislators in heading for the door, in a wave of departures that promises to reshape the GOP no matter whether they maintain control of the House or not.
With more retirements still likely, the House GOP right now is already poised to lose more than 350 years of congressional experience to lawmakers who are retiring altogether from public office — meaning they aren’t planning a run for Senate or governor.
The chairmen alone account for nearly 150 years of that experience — a loss experts said could sow chaos in an already dysfunctional Congress.
“Experience helps in negotiating deals. Chairs who have dealt with each other know what to expect and how to get to yes,” said Darrell West, director of governance studies at Brookings.
Mr. Issa, California Republican, has served in Congress since 2001, including a stint as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, where he led investigations into the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
He gave no reason for his departure in his announcement Wednesday, though he had been expected to be a top target for Democrats in November.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling have all announced their plans to retire as well.
All five members are term-limited per the GOP’s rules on chairmen positions.
“As a Democrat, I’m not really sad to see all of these chairmen retire, but as a believer in the institution of Congress I’m getting pretty concerned about the brain drain that’s occurring on Capitol Hill,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who worked for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The GOP has term-limit rules on chairmen that may make these waves of retirements more likely. Lawmakers are only supposed to serve for a maximum of six years at the helm of a committee.
Those rules were imposed after the GOP won control of the House in 1995 for the first time in decades, and they are now completing their fourth six-year cycle since then.
Despite the turmoil, Republicans remain committed to the idea.
“Every time this has been discussed in conference or put up for a vote, it wins,” Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said to the Hill, a Washington-based newspaper, when Mr. Hensarling and Mr. Smith announced their retirements in November.
The policy was put in place under former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to ensure fresh perspectives on the issues, and allow younger members more opportunities. Waivers for the rule can be granted, but it is a rare occurrence.
Republicans also push back on the idea that term-limits could prevent substantive deals in Congress, saying Democrats’ antipathy to working on President Trump’s agenda is a bigger factor in deal-making.
“House Democrats’ universal opposition to transformational tax reform showed that any desire to actually make deals that benefit the American people is purely lip service,” said Jesse Hunt, National Republican Committee spokesman.
Democrats are already campaigning on the opportunity to win back the majority and regain some of these leadership positions on Capitol Hill.
“Committee chairs are retiring because they know they’ll probably be in the minority next year. And Republicans in districts that Donald Trump lost in 2016 know their chances of winning are slim. So instead of fighting to keep their seats and help save the Republican majority, they’re just waving the white flag,” read a fundraising email from the Working Families Party, a liberal-leaning minor political party.
Liberal activist Tom Steyer is already counting Mr. Issa’s seat as a win for the blue team in an email to supporters.
“Progressives are energized like never before — and today makes it more than obvious: Trump and the GOP are scared,” he said.
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