Capitol flight: lawmakers leaving

Alan Cai

March 22, 2024

The 118th Congress of the United States has been nothing short of unprecedented, but for all the wrong reasons; the first Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, was elected after an astonishing 15 ballots. Speaker McCarthy was ousted in late 2023, marking the first speaker removal in American history, Congress passed a near-record low number of bills —an embarrassing proportion of which consisted of bickering debt ceiling negotiation acts—, and Representative George Santos of New York was expelled from Congress on various federal criminal charges, the only the third time since the Civil War. At a time when America is at a historic political crossroads with various crises abroad and at home, the deeply divided Congress is showing minimal leadership and acting as a magnet for well-deserved criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. In an environment in which the extremist few wield an undue amount of power and our nation’s leaders fail to address the needs of the American people, it should come as no surprise that numerous members of Congress are planning to terminate their careers early by not running for reelection this fall—some even opting to depart the lower chamber of Congress before they leave.

Earlier this month on March 12th, representative Ken Buck announced that he would be resigning his House seat effective today (March 22nd). His departure marks the end of a tortuous career, one which began in the far-right Freedom Caucus wave of 2014 and ended with him opposing Kevin McCarthy’s impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden and voting against the impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas, one of three Republicans to join Democrats in resisting the initial impeachment vote against the Homeland Security Secretary. Buck was also one of eight Republicans to vote to remove Speaker McCarthy from the speakership, an event orchestrated by far-right factions of the Republican party. Buck cited dysfunction and gridlock as his primary reason for terminating his Congressional career early, adding that he hoped a new slate of better candidates would be able to lead the next generation of the American legislature.

Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin announced today that he will also be leaving his seat early, setting April 19th as his last day in the lower chamber. His decision was reportedly not influenced by any recent House developments but rather a shift to focus more on his family. The Chair of the House Committee of Intelligence was a highly respected moderate, and his departure will cut the Republican majority to an even slimmer 217-213 margin. Like Buck, he was one of the three Republicans voting against the impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas and has voiced his dissatisfaction with Congress.

In addition to these notable early departures, several high-profile Republicans, including Patrick McHenry, Chair of Financial Services, and Kay Granger, Chair of Appropriations, have announced that they will not be seeking reelection this fall, a highly unusual trend but expected considering the circumstances.

In light of the mass exodus of Congressional leaders, our nation’s legislature must find ways to reform itself to better serve the people and overcome gridlock to solve the country’s problems.