Rep. Miller’s retirement leaves Nancy Pelosi without one of her closest allies

Greg Nash

The retirement of veteran Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) will leave House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) without one of her closest allies and Democrats without one of their greatest liberal lions.

But after the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee announced Monday that this year would be his last, those close to Pelosi were quick to point out Miller’s decision wasn’t foreshadowing an end to the Democratic leader’s career in the House.

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A Democratic leadership aide said Miller’s retirement will be “a personal loss” for Pelosi because her fellow Californian was “someone she leaned on quite a bit” but cautioned that Miller wouldn’t disappear entirely from her close circle of advisers.

Some political prognosticators have floated the idea that Miller’s retirement portends Pelosi’s own rush for the exit. But sources close to Pelosi rejected that notion Monday, with one saying Miller’s decision “says nothing about her future.”

“Someone who raised $35 million in 2013 is not thinking about retiring,” the source said, referring to Pelosi’s fundraising tally last year.

Political observers on and off Capitol Hill say Miller leaves Pelosi with enormous shoes to be filled, though, especially as Democrats face the daunting task of winning 17 seats in order to take control of the House.

“Any time a leader loses a key ally — and particularly someone who has been integral to the caucus over the past four decades — it is a blow,” Julian Zelizer, political scientist at Princeton University, said Monday. “Right at a time that Pelosi is struggling to win back control and regain influence, this is someone whose expertise would be valuable.”

A former House leadership aide echoed that sentiment, saying that while the announcement is no surprise coming from someone who’s spent four decades in Congress, it leaves a void the Democrats will find difficult to fill.

Pelosi praised her longtime confidant in a statement following his announcement.

“For 40 years in the House, George Miller has been the model of the serious, substantive and successful legislator. In the majority, as chairman of three committees, and in the minority as well, he has written some of the most creative legislation of our time — on health care, education, child policy and labor rights, and also on the environment, energy and national parks,” she said. “George always incorporated the most current research of our best thinkers into innovative bills, and he passed most of them with bipartisan support.”

Miller, who was just 29 when he first arrived in Congress, suggested that the milestone of spending 40 years on Capitol Hill played a part in his decision. But the former House leadership aide said the “hyper-partisanship” in Washington and Congress’s “inability to get anything done” was likely a contributing factor, much as with the 12 other House retirements so far on both sides of the aisle.

“I think you’re seeing people being fed up with the situation in Congress,” the former aide said. “It’s not just an issue of minority versus majority.”

Miller’s announcement isn’t entirely a shock, and many thought his decision to step down from the Steering and Policy Committee after the 2012 elections was an early indication he was eying the door even then. But several leadership aides pushed back against that notion Monday, arguing Miller’s close relationship with Pelosi meant he simply didn’t need the chairmanship of that panel to exert his influence.

“He’s always involved in what he wants to be involved in anyways — he always has her ear — so I just think he felt like he didn’t need it,” the current leadership aide said.

Few on Capitol Hill have fought harder than Miller for liberal priorities like workers rights, the environment and universal healthcare.

As then-chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Miller was instrumental in passing much of the Democrats’ 2010 healthcare reform law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the 2009 federal stimulus bill and a number of pieces of labor and environmental protection legislation. When a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh last year, killing more than 1,100 workers who produced clothing for popular western labels, Miller was on the front lines of the push to install better worker safeguards, an effort that included an extended visit to the site of the accident.

He’s also been among the loudest proponents of increasing the minimum wage, a fight he’ll continue Tuesday with economists of the Economic Policy Institute.

The fiery liberal has also worked across the aisle at times, helping to craft No Child Left Behind alongside then-Education Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio). He’s since pushed to overhaul the bill, but his retirement even drew bipartisan praise from the House Speaker.

“No one would confuse me and George Miller for ideological soul mates, but during our years serving together on the Education & the Workforce Committee, we got things done on behalf of the American people thanks in no small part to his dedication and willingness to work for the greater good,” Boehner said in a statement. “I have great respect for George, and on behalf of the whole House, thank him for his decades of service and congratulate him on a remarkable career.”

Miller’s San Francisco Bay-area district is safely Democratic and sure to draw substantial interest ahead of the March filing deadline and subsequent June top-two primary election.

Miller’s son, California statehouse lobbyist George Miller, could be interested in his father’s seat, according to California Democrats.

California state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D) announced his candidacy following Miller’s retirement announcement and said he “would love to replace” Miller in Congress.

Other names mentioned by California Democrats include California Assemblywomen Joan Buchanan and Susan Bonilla. DeSaulnier and Buchanan both finished behind Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) in a 2009 House special election.

One possible candidate mentioned by California Democrats is Commerce Department official Ro Khanna (D), who’s been challenging Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) in a primary in a district just south of Miller’s. Khanna’s campaign ruled out that possibility, but some Democrats in the state hope he still could change his mind and avoid a messy primary for their party.

 

“Rep. George Miller has been a tireless advocate for working families and he will be missed in Congress. As for Ro, he will continue to work hard for the opportunity to represent the people of California’s 17th district,” Khanna spokesman Tyler Law told The Hill.