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Departing House Members Ask: ‘Why Am I Here?’

U.S.Departing House Members Ask: ‘Why Am I Here?’

At some point during a routine seven-hour trip from his Oregon district to Washington, Representative Earl Blumenauer, 75, a Democrat who has served in Congress for almost three decades, experienced a depressing epiphany.

“I distinctly recall crawling on yet another plane to come back for yet another vote that made absolutely no difference and was going absolutely nowhere,” he said in an interview. “And I had this singular experience of asking myself, ‘Why would you do this?’”

Mr. Blumenauer’s moment of truth was in fact far from singular. A total of 54 House members, or about one-eighth of the total body, will not be seeking another term this November.

As a matter of sheer numbers, the exodus is not history-making. What is striking are the names on the list. There are rising stars, seasoned legislators and committee chairs. But not a single bomb-thrower.

For three of the 54, the issue was forced: one by expulsion (George Santos, the Long Island Republican) and two by being gerrymandered out of winnable districts (Representatives Wiley Nickel and Kathy Manning, both North Carolina Democrats). Two others died (Donald M. Payne Jr., of New Jersey, and A. Donald McEachin of Virginia, both Democrats).

Another 18 members vacated their seats to seek a different elective office. That leaves 31 members — 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, 20 of whom were interviewed for this article — who have decided to leave the House of their own volition, with no electoral pressure to do so.


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