Abandon ship: Dem chair of House Budget Committee not running for reelection

Ah, a tradition unlike any other — the drumbeat of retirement announcements among the governing party ahead of an expected bloodletting in the midterms.

John Yarmuth of Kentucky is the first into the lifeboats as the S.S. Biden begins to sink. He insists in the clip below that he’s bailing because he’s getting older and wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. Okay, but he’s young-ish by congressional standards — he’ll turn 74 next month — and he wields a tremendous amount of power over the Democratic agenda as head of the House Budget Committee. He represents a safe Democratic district too (the only Democratic House district left in Kentucky, in fact), having won there by 25 points last year.

It’s strange to see a politician in such a plum position head off into retirement. Unless, of course, he expects Democrats to be walloped next fall, forcing him to fork over the budget gavel to the GOP.

Every coming retirement by a prominent Democrat, and there will be more, will make members of the party wince since it’ll be tantamount to a concession that they won’t hold their majority in 2022. It risks a doom loop in which the more party leaders telegraph that the situation is hopeless by retiring, the more depressed Democratic voters become, and the lower turnout in 2022 ends up being — making the situation hopeless after all. Soon the buzz will start about whether Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, or James Clyburn, all of whom are older than time, will be heading for the exits too. I doubt Pelosi or Hoyer would announce that they’re quitting before Election Day, knowing how that’ll send Democrats into a panic about a midterm wipeout.

But they must be thinking about it. Meanwhile, the GOP is exultant:

Republicans dominate Kentucky’s state legislature and could try to grab Yarmuth’s seat via redistricting, by redrawing his Louisville district’s lines to shoehorn in more conservative voters. They sounded reluctant to do that a few months ago, though, fearing that an attempt to get greedy could force courts to police redistricting more closely.

“It’s been my experience in studying history that when you get real cute, you end up in a lawsuit — and you lose it. And then the courts redraw the lines,” said Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.). “So my advice would be to keep Louisville blue.”…

Unabashed partisan gerrymandering that was commonplace after 2010 is now giving some Republicans pause. Top party strategists are urging state mapmakers to play it safe and draw lines that can withstand demographic change throughout the decade and lawsuits.

“There’s an old saying: Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). “And when it comes to redistricting, that is, in fact, the case.”

All of that makes Yarmuth’s retirement even more ominous for Dems. Local Republicans weren’t inclined to thrust him into a redder district, so he would have won reelection easily. He’s not leaving Congress because he was pushed. He’s jumping.

He’s not the only prominent Dem to announce his retirement this year but I believe he’s the first to do so since Biden’s summer swoon sent his job approval into a tailspin. Cheri Bustos, who presided over the DCCC’s 2020 disaster, announced back in April that she wouldn’t run again. Ron Kind of Wisconsin announced his own retirement on August 10, shortly before the evacuation of Kabul went sideways and took Biden’s numbers with it. Yarmuth may be the first true “we’re doomed” retirement of the fall. What a signal to be sent by the guy in the charge of the budget amid a party deadlock over infrastructure spending.

By the way, Yarmuth was facing a primary challenge next year. His opponent was state Rep. Attica Scott, a black woman. He almost certainly would have won, but maybe he thought it was a bridge too far to have to campaign throughout a general election and a primary only to be rewarded with a seat in a House minority that might not return to power for years to come. Especially if progressives like the Squad tried to mobilize on Scott’s behalf.

I’ll leave you with Pelosi in excuse mode this morning, blaming the media for the fact that only 10 percent of the public has a decent sense of what’s in their gargantuan kitchen-sink infrastructure reconciliation bill.

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David Strom 12:31 PM on December 08, 2022