Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain

Senate Republicans are facing a brain drain as some of the caucus’s biggest dealmakers prepare to head for the exits. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP MORE’s (R-Mo.) announcement this week that he will not run for reelection is the latest blow for the GOP’s governing wing of the Senate, a coalition of policy wonks and bipartisan-minded institutionalists who have been at the center of the biggest legislative accomplishments. 

Though the membership of Congress is always in flux — a third of the Senate is up every two years and the full House every two — the turnover amongst some of the most successful GOP negotiators is particularly acute. 


“There’s a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge leaving. ... It's a loss of a lot of institutional memory,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynIntelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law Senate GOP signal they won't filibuster debate of hate crimes bill Application portal for venue grants down for five days with no updates MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Democrats roll out legislation to expand Supreme Court Wall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study MORE (R-Ky.).

In addition to Blunt, Sens. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Senate GOP opens door to earmarks Five takeaways from Biden's first budget proposal MORE (R-Ala.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanKellyanne Conway joins Ohio Senate candidate's campaign OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Senate confirms Biden's pick to lead White House environmental council MORE (R-Ohio), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) and Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrFormer Gov. Pat McCrory enters GOP Senate race in North Carolina Lara Trump leads GOP field in North Carolina Senate race, poll shows Former North Carolina governor set to launch Senate bid MORE (R-N.C.) are all expected to retire at the end of 2022. 

Each holds a top GOP committee spot. Blunt and Shelby, in particular, are known for their ability to craft deals; Portman and Toomey are well versed in policy and Burr has earned the respect of Democrats for his work as Intelligence Committee chairman. 

Other GOP senators seen as dealmakers have also left the Senate in recent years. 

Former Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt's retirement deals blow to McConnell inner circle MORE (R-Tenn.) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate GOP faces retirement brain drain Roy Blunt won't run for Senate seat in 2022 Lobbying world MORE (R-Kan.) — two GOP chairmen with big bipartisan accomplishments — retired at the end of 2020. Former Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonFive big takeaways on Georgia's new election law Warnock: 'Almost impossible to overstate' importance of voting rights legislation Top Georgia Republican says he won't run for Senate MORE (R-Ga.) stepped down in 2019 due to health reasons. 


The end of 2018 saw the departure of former Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchPress: Forget bipartisanship — it's dead! Privatization of foster care has been a disaster for children Remembering Ted Kennedy highlights decline of the Senate MORE (R-Utah), then the chairman of the Finance Committee; Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerFox News inks contributor deal with former Democratic House member Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain Roy Blunt won't run for Senate seat in 2022 MORE (R-Tenn.), then the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFive reasons why US faces chronic crisis at border Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain Former GOP lawmaker: Republican Party 'engulfed in lies and fear' MORE (R-Ariz.), a conservative who was willing to buck his party. Former Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden, lawmakers start down a road with infrastructure MORE (R-Ariz.) died in 2018. 

Asked about the trail of departures, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Trump mocks Murkowski, Cheney election chances MORE (R-Alaska) interjected “all of the institutionalists?” 

“I think about just the years of legislating that they have brought to these discussions, it’s going to be a real loss. A loss for the institution really,” Murkowski said. 

“Over the years, Congress has changed and we’ve seen different leaders rise, perform and leave. … But it just seems like, it seems like, we're losing so much of that substantive tenure in a very short period,” she added. 

It’s far from certain the current exits will be the only ones for Senate Republicans. Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley: Iowa can't afford to be 'babysitting' unaccompanied minors Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle On The Money: Senate confirms Gensler to lead SEC | Senate GOP to face off over earmarks next week | Top Republican on House tax panel to retire MORE (Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee and the panel's former chairman, isn’t expected to make a decision about running for another term until the fall. Murkowski — who Trump has threatened to campaign against — also hasn’t said if she will run for reelection. 


Murkowski, asked if she had made a decision on 2022, said, “I have to do it before 2022.” 

The departures are being watched closely by Democrats. 

“These are people I’ve worked with for years. They harken back to an era where there was bipartisan cooperation so I’m worried about their absence,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinLawmakers demand justice for Adam Toledo: 'His hands were up. He was unarmed' Schumer warns Democrats can't let GOP block expansive agenda Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ MORE (D-Ill.). 

Asked if he had seen the same interest in bipartisanship from newer members, Durbin replied, “not yet.”

The changing of the guard comes as many GOP institutionalists are replaced with Republicans more in the mold of former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE.

GovTrack, a congressional analysis website, ranked Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha Blackburn2024 GOP White House hopefuls lead opposition to Biden Cabinet Blackburn introduces bill to require migrant DNA testing at border Bottom line MORE (R-Tenn.) as the senator most ideologically to the right in 2019. Her predecessor, Corker, was ranked 47 in 2018. 

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who replaced former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), has a 100 percent Trump score according to FiveThirtyEight. Shelby, while still a typical Trump vote, was at 90 percent. Former Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona state senator announces bid for Kirkpatrick's seat Democratic Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick says she won't seek reelection Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Ariz.) voted with Trump 94.9 percent of the time; McCain, whose seat she was appointed to, was at 83 percent. 

Republicans only need a net gain of one seat to win back the majority next year. But they are defending 20 seats in 2022, including two in states won by Biden: Pennsylvania, where Toomey is retiring, and Wisconsin, where Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonPelosi: Dropping 9/11-style Jan. 6 commission an 'option' amid opposition Wisconsin state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski launches Senate bid Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies MORE (R) hasn’t made a decision but suggested recently his preference is to leave after 2022. 

Open seats could attract Trump loyalists, which could tilt the Senate GOP further toward Trump if they are elected.

Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - World mourns the death of Prince Philip The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements MORE (R-Ala.), the House firebrand who supported efforts to overturn the election results, has indicated that he’s looking at running for Shelby’s seat. Rep. Jason SmithJason Thomas SmithGreitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP White House delays release of budget plan Trump pollster: Greitens leads big in Missouri GOP Senate primary MORE (R-Mo.) — who votes with Trump 94 percent of the time according to FiveThirtyEight — also said Tuesday that he’s considering a run for Blunt’s seat. 


“I would definitely compare my record for working class families and my conservative credentials against anyone that's named. ... So, I am considering it,” he said. 

It’s possible other senators will step into the shoes of the dealmakers. GOP senators who have been willing to cut deals include Murkowski, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle MORE (Maine), Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Senators reintroduce bill to block NATO withdrawal New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations MORE (Fla.) and others. 

“I think some of that is because of their experience, they have maybe a more extensive and nuanced understanding of not just the short-term but long-term consequences of doing things,” Cornyn said. “My experience is if we’ve got 50 others, people do step up.” 

Blunt, asked on Tuesday about senators leaving from the institutionalist wing of the party, questioned if that was “fair to the members that are staying,” predicting that senators who might be more ideological now would step up to fill any void. 

Speaking to reporters in Missouri on Monday, Blunt warned his potential successors of drawing hard lines on what they would never agree to. 

“I think the country in the last decade or so has sort of fallen off the edge with too many politicians saying, ‘If you vote for me I'll never compromise on anything,’ ” Blunt said. “The failure to do that — that's a philosophy that particularly does not work in a democracy.”