Peter DeFazio, House Transportation Committee Chairman, Will Retire

WASHINGTON — Representative Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced on Wednesday that he planned to retire after 35 years in the House rather than seek re-election next year, joining the growing ranks of Democrats who have opted to exit Congress as they eye a grim midterm election cycle.

Mr. DeFazio’s announcement brought to 19 the number of House Democrats who have said they will either retire or seek another political office ahead of contests that could cost their party control of the House, where they can spare only three votes. He is the third committee leader to signal his departure, compounding a loss of decades of experience and institutional knowledge Democrats will face in the next Congress.

“It’s time for me to pass the baton to the next generation so I can focus on my health and well-being,” Mr. DeFazio said in a statement announcing his plans. “This was a tough decision at a challenging time for our republic with the very pillars of our democracy under threat, but I am bolstered by the passion and principles of my colleagues in Congress and the ingenuity and determination of young Americans who are civically engaged and working for change.”

Mr. DeFazio is the longest-serving House lawmaker from Oregon, and has helped shape decades of transportation and infrastructure policy, pushing for a stronger response to climate change and boosting environmental protections in his state and across the country. He also helped lead a congressional investigation into the Boeing 737 MAX plane accidents.

His proposal this year for a sprawling infrastructure bill was cast aside in favor of a bipartisan product negotiated by a group of Republican and Democratic senators, which both frustrated and infuriated Mr. DeFazio and his allies. But ultimately, Mr. DeFazio and nearly every other House Democrat voted for the $1 trillion legislation, and in his statement hailing its passage, he singled out the measure as a career-capping accomplishment.

“For decades, the people of southwest Oregon have had an outstanding champion for jobs, clean energy and conservation,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement on Wednesday, calling Mr. DeFazio “an absolute force for progress.”

“Our Democratic caucus will miss a trusted voice and valued friend,” she added.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon, said that Mr. DeFazio would leave “an astounding legacy in everything that touches transportation and infrastructure.” (Mr. Blumenauer also noted that “he’s earned the right to have a little more rational lifestyle, with the worst commute of anybody in the Oregon delegation.”)

Republicans pointed to Mr. DeFazio’s retirement plans as further evidence of their advantage going into the 2022 elections, given that House committee chairmen often prefer to leave Congress rather than return to the minority in a chamber where the party out of power has little influence.

Two other top Democrats — Representatives John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chairman of the Budget Committee, and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the chairwoman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee — have announced their plans to retire.

“Committee chairs don’t retire unless they know their majority is gone,” said Courtney Parella, a spokeswoman for the House Republican campaign arm. “Nancy Pelosi’s days as speaker are numbered.”

A dozen House Republicans have announced that they will not seek re-election. All but a few of them plan to pursue another office.

Almost immediately after Mr. DeFazio made his retirement public, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the lone nonvoting delegate from the District of Columbia who is second to Mr. DeFazio in seniority on the committee, announced plans to seek the top spot on the panel.

Source: NYT > U.S. > Politics

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