Mounting GOP retirements threaten House majority

A retirement wave has hit House Republicans, emboldening Democrats who have become increasingly bullish about their prospects of winning back a majority in 2018.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling MORE (R-Va.) on Thursday became the latest Republican to announce he would not seek another term. 

The 13-term Virginian followed Reps. Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeTexas New Members 2019 Cook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs MORE (R-Texas) and Frank LoBiondoFrank Alo LoBiondoThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority LoBiondo launches consulting firm Live coverage: House elects new Speaker as Dems take charge MORE (R-N.J.), both of whom announced Tuesday — hours before Republicans suffered sweeping losses at the polls — that they’d retire from Congress.

All told, 29 Republicans will not seek reelection to their House seats, compared to only 11 for Democrats. Fifteen Republicans are retiring outright, rather than seeking other political offices or positions. Only two Democrats are doing the same.

“Anybody who has a pair of eyes and ears knows that the House is in play and at risk,” Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentThe Hill's Morning Report - Government is funded, but for how long? Ex-GOP lawmaker says his party is having a 'Monty Python' moment on shutdown Former GOP lawmaker: Republicans know shutdown is ‘a fight they cannot win’ MORE (R-Pa.), who heads a moderate GOP caucus and is not seeking reelection next year, told The Hill. “And I’m sure that fact enters into the calculation of many members who are contemplating their futures."

“Do you really want to go through another year like the last one?” Dent asked.

Not all of the retiring Republicans are exiting districts that are likely to be in play.

Goodlatte's district, for example, is reliably Republican and was won by President Trump in 2016 by 25 points.

In the 15 districts where members are retiring outright, Trump won six of them by 18 points or more. 

Yet the retirements are expanding the map for Democrats. 

LoBiondo has held his district for 12 terms, and it was not considered a likely Democratic pickup until his retirement. After his announcement, the Cook Political Report declared it a toss-up in 2018.

Republicans face enormous electoral headwinds heading into 2018.

Trump’s approval rating is at historic lows for a first-term president, and the party that controls the White House almost always loses seats in midterm elections. The GOP held on to four House seats in special elections this year that took place in red districts, but Tuesday’s shellacking at the polls is more in line with how many political observers believe 2018 will shake out.

And the stampede for the exits could continue.

Republicans said more retirement announcements are expected in the coming days and weeks. The other veteran GOP chairmen who are facing term limits and could retire are Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Homeland Security Comimittee Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulLawmakers join musical stars to celebrate Grammys on the Hill DCCC opens Texas office to protect House pickups, target vulnerable GOP seats GOP, Dems balk at latest Trump foreign aid cuts MORE (R-Texas). 

Another long-serving Texas Republican, powerful Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, isn’t facing term limits but represents a congressional district that’s trending blue.

Sessions is on Democrats’ retirement watch list, as well as Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Top House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action MORE (R-N.J.), former Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and former Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingMcCarthy holds courtesy meeting with ex-Rep. Grimm Dem rep calls for 'happy medium' on immigration Republicans defend McCain amid Trump attacks MORE (R-N.Y.) and Reps. Leonard LanceLeonard LancePush for ‘Medicare for all’ worries centrist Dems Incoming Dem lawmaker: Trump 'sympathizes' with leaders 'accused of moral transgressions' On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report MORE (R-N.J.), Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine).

After Tuesday’s landslide in Virginia, buzz around the Capitol centered on vulnerable GOP Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockGOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door Ex-lawmakers face new scrutiny over lobbying Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE, who represents affluent Northern Virginia suburbs just outside of Washington, D.C. In addition to electing Ralph Northam as governor, Democrats took back seven GOP-held state delegate seats that overlap Comstock’s sprawling district, The Washington Post reported. 

GOP lawmakers are also closely watching former Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaThe Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles Senate throws hundreds of Trump nominees into limbo MORE (R-Calif.), who nearly lost his seat to Democrat Doug Applegate last year, and former Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who was forced to relinquish his gavel two years ago due to term limits but stuck around.

After the Goodlatte news broke, Rogers, the Appropriations chairman emeritus, said he’s not going anywhere.

“I’m busy. I’m happy, hardworking, and hate to see some of these great people retire,” said Rogers, who turns 80 next month.

Democrats are relishing every new departure.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, released a strategy memo on Thursday announcing that the national party had expanded its list of targeted House seats from 80 Republican-held districts to 91 in the wake of Tuesday’s elections.

Democrats need to flip 24 seats to win back the majority in the House.

Luján cited the rapid pace of GOP retirements in his memo. He pointed to a Sabato’s Crystal Ball study that found the president’s party has historically shed 22 points in races for open seats that take place in midterm years.

“In general, eliminating the power of incumbency creates a great deal of advantage for House Democratic challengers,” Luján wrote.

The DCCC outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee by $9 million in the most recent quarter, although the NRCC still has about $12 million more in cash on hand.

But perhaps the most startling fundraising trend was uncovered by a Brookings Institution study. Analyst Michael Malbin found that nearly 100 Democrats running in GOP-held districts in 2018 had already raised at least $50,000. The last comparable election cycle was the 2010 GOP wave election, when 60 Republicans running in Democrat-held district had raised the same amount at this point.

House GOP leaders aren’t publicly panicking over retirements just yet.

“It’s a lot of good talent that we’re going to lose. It’s tough,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the GOP’s chief vote-counter, told The Hill. But he joked: “I told [retiring colleagues] to stop talking to one another because somebody else might want to join them. The sad thing is they start smiling more and more after they make the announcement.

“We just have to tamp that down.” 

National Republicans say the retirements are being overplayed, noting that they’re happening for a variety of reasons.

Goodlatte, Poe and Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingEx-GOP congressman heads to investment bank The next two years of federal housing policy could be positive under Mark Calabria Why Ocasio-Cortez should make flood insurance reform a priority MORE (R-Texas) were term-limited for their positions as committee chairs. Many House members have left for administration posts or are leaving to run for higher office. GOP Reps. Raúl Labrador (Idaho), Kristi Noem (S.D.), Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackLamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Juan Williams: The GOP's worsening problem with women How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit MORE (Tenn.), Jim Renacci (Ohio) and Steve Pearce (N.M.) are all running for governor of their states, while others are running for the Senate.

Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) was offered a job atop the Ohio Business Roundtable that he said would allow him to spend more time with his family.

One House GOP strategist argued that only a handful of retirements are taking place in Democrat-leaning districts, pointing to seats currently held by Lobiondo and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertYoder, Messer land on K Street Ex-GOP lawmaker from Washington joins lobbying firm Outgoing GOP rep says law enforcement, not Congress should conduct investigations MORE (R-Wash.).

Republicans believe state Sen. Dino Rossi (R-Wash.) will hold Reichert’s seat, which is seen as a toss-up by Cook. Ros-Lehtinen's is seen as a district leaning Democrat.

Republicans still have way more incumbents running than Democrats do. In many districts, Democrats will have to survive multi-candidate primaries, potentially weakening them ahead of the general election.

“If you look across the board it’s a variety of reasons, and most of the retirements are in very red districts that we’ll keep,” said a House GOP strategist who requested anonymity. “Each member that retires does so with their own reasons. ... Dent mentioned he wasn’t happy, but other than that, it hasn’t been a lot of folks leaving because of their electoral prospects; it’s been normal attrition. You go into any cycle prepared for retirements.”