Goodbye gang: Exodus of U.S. House Chairmen is most since 2006

November 24, 2017 Greg Giroux  & Gail Ballantyne

This analysis was first available to Bloomberg Government subscribers

House Republicans are on the cusp of a brain drain as experienced chairmen prepare to end their congressional careers in numbers unseen in more than a decade.

One chairman quit early. The chairmen of four other full committees plus at least eight subcommittee chairmen are retiring or seeking other office.

With still a year to go until the election, that’s the biggest exodus of the House members in charge of setting priorities and writing legislation since the 109th Congress in 2005-2006, when five Republican committee chairmen didn’t seek re-election. Democrats won a majority of House seats that year.

“The good effect of term limits is that they prevent seniority infarction. The pipeline keeps flowing, and there are opportunities for ambitious younger members,” Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California, said in an email. “The downside is that they limit the committees’ institutional memory.  That’s a particularly serious problem when it comes to oversight.”

The departing full-committee chairmen of the 115th Congress are Diane Black (Tenn.) of the Budget Committee, who’s running for governor; Bob Goodlatte (Va.) of Judiciary; Jeb Hensarling (Texas) of Financial Services; Lamar Smith (Texas) of Science, Space, and Technology; and Jason Chaffetz (Utah), who led Oversight and Government Reform before resigning in June.

All were favored to win re-election, though some couldn’t return as top Republican on the committee daises.

House Republican Conference rules restrict service as chairman or ranking member of a committee or subcommittee to three Congresses or six years total.

House Republican leaders imposed the limits in the mid-1990s, following four decades in the minority watching Democratic committee chairmen “build their own fiefdoms,” as Pitney described it.

‘Natural’ Transition

Hensarling, Goodlatte and Smith, who are serving their third terms as chairmen, said the restriction contributed to their decisions to retire.

“Since my term as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee comes to an end next year, the time seems right for my departure,” Hensarling said in announcing his retirement.

Departing after six years leading Judiciary is “a natural stepping-off point,” Goodlatte said this month.

Finishing three terms as Science chairman is one reason “this seems like a good time to pass on the privilege of representing the 21st District to someone else,” Smith said.

Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), who’s also making the 115th Congress his last, said that being term-limited made it an “appropriate time to leave.” He’s chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee.

The Ways and Means Committee is going to lose one subcommittee chairman by the end of January, when Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) quits, and two more of its top Republicans when Sam Johnson (R-Texas) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) choose not to come back for the 116th Congress.

Two Foreign Affairs subcommittee chairmen, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas) are choosing not to run next year. The Financial Services and Energy and Commerce committees also have some subcommittee leadership turnover ahead: Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) won’t be coming back after the 115th Congress.

Black has led the House Budget Committee since January, when she succeeded Tom Price (R-Ga.), after he became health and human services secretary. Price in September resigned as HHS secretary. Black, who announced for governor in August, would have to relinquish the gavel under House Republican Conference rules that generally bar candidates for higher office from leading a committee. Black could seek a waiver.

Also term-limited are the chairmen of the full Foreign Affairs; Homeland Security; and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. It’s too soon to know whether they’ll seek or be granted waivers to stay on.

There aren’t committee term limits for Democrats.

Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) has been the top Democrat on Judiciary since 1995.

Conyers is facing calls for a House Ethics Committee investigation after it was revealed he reached a settlement with a staffer who accused him of sexual harassment. Conyers confirmed the settlement but denied the accusation. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who’s second to Conyers in seniority on Judiciary, called the allegations “extremely serious and deeply troubling.”

In 2006, the House Republican committee chairmen who didn’t seek re-election were Jim Nussle (Iowa) of Budget, Michael Oxley (Ohio) of Financial Services, Henry Hyde (Ill.) of Foreign Affairs, Sherwood Boehlert (N.Y.) of Science, and Bill Thomas (Calif.) of Ways and Means.

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