David Obey, the gruff chairman of the House Appropriations panel, delivered a blow to his Democratic colleagues Wednesday by announcing that he would leave Congress at the end of his term.
His departure may throw another Democratic seat to the Republicans in an election cycle already expected to punish the governing party, and may also open a lawmaker scramble for one of the most prized committee slots on Capitol Hill.
Obey (D-Wis.) faced his toughest election challenge in years from Sean DuffySean DuffyFirst lady's press secretary calls on Rachel Campos Duffy, Fox News to apologize for host's comments Wisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans Ron Johnson: 'I may not be the best candidate' for 2022 midterms MORE, a top GOP recruit. But, in his typical blunt style, he put to rest any notions that he feared he’d lose the seat he’s held since 1969.
“Let me put it this way,” Obey told reporters. “I’ve won 25 elections. Does anybody really think I don’t know how to win another one? Or for that matter, has anyone ever seen me walk away from a fight in my life?
“The fact is there isn’t a chance of a snowball in Hades of that progressive congressional district electing someone who is a poor imitation of George Bush’s policies on a bad day,” he added, taking a parting shot at Duffy.
Obey is the most influential House Democrat to announce his retirement this cycle.
But Democrats dismissed the notion that Obey’s decision foretells of Republican victories in November’s midterm elections.
“I don’t see how in any way that has an adverse effect on our ability to maintain our majority, not at all,” said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). “He’s done a great job. You know, a guy retires from the war, and you don’t say ,‘We’re going to lose the war.’”
Obey’s retirement also sets off a battle for the chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee, should Democrats retain their majority.
Republicans on the Appropriations Committee said Obey’s retirement shows that the Democratic majority is in danger.
“It’s the end of an era, and it will also set in a certain amount of panic on the House floor,” said Rep. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (R-Ill.). “He’s one of the lead generals, and to have him fall shows that a change election is coming.”
Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said Obey may be “the first of many dominoes to fall.”
“I don’t think the chairman of the full committee walks away after 42 years if he’s not feeling well, the election isn’t going well and/or he’s worried about the majority,” LaTourette said. “It will be a big loss. He’s a smart man.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) immediately went on the attack.
“There is no question that David Obey was facing the race of his life, and that is why it is understandable that the architect of President ObamaBarack Hussein Obama Obama backs Trudeau in Canadian election Former Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal MORE’s failed stimulus plan has decided to call it quits,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) expressed confidence the Democrats would hold the district, which President Barack Obama carried with 56 percent of the vote in 2008.
“Chairman Obey would have won reelection again had he run. We are confident that a Democrat who shares Chairman Obey’s commitment to making progress for Wisconsin’s middle-class families will succeed him as the next representative of Wisconsin’s 7th congressional district,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
Obey, a 20-term incumbent and powerful senior Democrat who’s approaching his 72nd birthday, said he is “bone-tired.”
“There’s a time to stay and there’s a time to go. And this is my time to go,” he said at a Wednesday press conference on Capitol Hill. “Frankly, I’d hate to do it; there is a lot that has yet to be done. But, more frankly, I am bone-tired.”
Obey, one of the most liberal members of the House, cited the deaths of two of his former colleagues, ex-Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Texas) and Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), in saying that he wants to step aside. He said his wife, Joan, is “the happiest woman in Wisconsin at this point.”
He also decried the lack of civility he says has appeared to take hold of Washington in recent years.
Talking about both journalists and politicians, Obey said “both of our professions have been coarsened in recent years and the public [suffers] for it.”
Still, the Appropriations chairman touted several successes, mentioning the “great privilege” of presiding over the House as the chamber passed the healthcare bill in March. He also helped the administration pass the stimulus package.
He said he contemplated retirement in 2000, but President George W. Bush’s policies angered him so much he decided to remain in office.
Obey said he hasn’t tackled all of the major initiatives he wanted to, “but I’ve done all of the big things I’m likely to do.”
Jared Allen, Lauren Victoria Burke, Walter Alarkon and Russell Berman contributed to this article.