GOP Retirements Spike, Diminishing Hope Of Retaking House Majority In 2020

Updated on Nov. 11 at 12:40 p.m. ET

The recent stream of Republicans announcing plans to retire in 2020 means lawmakers may be losing hope that there is a path to retaking the majority in the House of Representatives next November.

So far, 20 House GOP lawmakers have announced they will not run for reelection, and two more have left office already and have prompted special elections. Four Republicans are seeking other offices: Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne and Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall for Senate, Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte for governor and California Rep. Paul Cook for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in their respective states.

On the Democratic side, eight members have said they will not run. Three are running for another office — Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján has decided to run for Senate in New Mexico instead of for his House seat, while Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Ed Markey. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is running for president, and has said she won’t run for reelection to the House regardless of whether she wins the nomination.

When control flips in the House, life in the minority party is often an adjustment. Most Republicans serving now are just learning what it’s like when their party isn’t in charge of the chamber.

They have little ability to steer the legislative agenda, and opportunities for bipartisan cooperation are scarce in an increasingly polarized House heading into a presidential election year. Republican conference rules imposing term limits for committee chair posts also mean senior members have fewer leadership opportunities.

GOP retirements in a significant number of competitive, mainly suburban districts gave Democrats a major boost in 2018. But the bulk of those calling it quits this cycle are in safe red seats in rural and exurban communities.

Republicans will have plenty of opportunities to play offense — 31 House Democrats represent districts that President Trump carried in 2016. Just three Republicans hold districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

Democrats have focused their attention on Texas — the state with the most Republican retirements — six members are departing after this term. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dubbed this dynamic a “Texodus.” They have set up a satellite operation in the state to make a more aggressive push to register new voters and pump up turnout among Latino voters — a key bloc that helped Democrats win two House contests in the state in 2018.

GOP political strategists admit that changing demographics in some suburban areas like the one outside Houston are making some formerly reliable red seats more competitive. But they also emphasize that Democrats will still have to spend resources defending freshmen lawmakers who won narrowly in 2018 but will face a tougher political environment with Trump on the ballot in 2020.

There are also four current or soon-to-be House vacancies — all of which are expected to be filled by special election prior to Election Day 2020, so those aren’t counted in NPR’s total retirements. Of those, only the vacant seat in Maryland’s 7th District — left open by the Oct. 17 death of House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings — has a date set yet; the primary will be held on Feb. 4, 2020, with the special general election on April 28, 2020.

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