A surprise, and not a good one.
Frelinghuysen denied that he was gonna retire when I asked him just THREE WEEKS ago today https://t.co/6NbfTWFUni
— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) January 29, 2018
It’s not a major surprise — he hadn’t been fundraising like a man who was preparing to run for reelection — but the usual reason for a committee chairman to retire isn’t present in this case. Ed Royce and Bob Goodlatte, among others, are on their way out of Congress next year because they’re term-limited as chairmen of their committees due to a GOP caucus rule that requires the gavel to be passed every six years. If you’re a Royce or a Goodlatte, staring at the prospect of returning to backbench status after having been one of the House’s most powerful members, you may decide that another run in a difficult political climate this fall isn’t worth the trouble. What’s unique about Rodney Frelinghuysen’s announcement today is that he wasn’t in his final year as chair as Appropriations chief. To the contrary, he only became chairman last year and conceivably has another five to go — if the GOP holds the House.
This morning’s announcement is Frelinghuysen’s way of signaling how he’s betting on that.
Today as I announce my retirement at the end of this session of Congress, I want to use the opportunity to strongly encourage the many young people I meet to consider public service. Public service is an incredible way to turn your convictions into something that serves the greater good and to do it alongside people from every walk of life and background. That has certainly been my experience here in this House, and during my Army service in Vietnam. I thank my friends and colleagues with whom I have served. My years in public service have allowed me to represent my home county of Morris for over 40 years, and also Essex, Passaic, Sussex Counties, and earlier on, Somerset! That would not have been possible without the love and support of my wife, Virginia, our two girls and my late father and mentor, Peter. The unsung heroes of my time in Congress are my staff, both in Morristown and Washington, who tend every day to the needs of 730,000 constituents!
This makes nine(!) Republican committee chairmen who are moving on this year. Frelinghuysen doesn’t come from a deep red district, either. He’s from New Jersey and his home base tilts Republican only very narrowly; Romney won it by five points in 2012 and Trump eked out a win there over Hillary by just a single point in 2016. It was rated a toss-up this fall by Cook Political Report even before Frelinghuysen’s retirement. *If* it’s possible for Republicans to hold that seat, sticking with the incumbent who wields the Appropriations gavel might have been the GOP’s only winning bet this fall. As it is, with a no-name replacing Frelinghuysen on the ballot, one wonders if the seat’s a goner.
The strangest thing about the timing is that Republicans have been showing signs of life on the generic ballot lately thanks to the growing popularity of tax cuts. The midterm picture’s not as dire as it was in mid-December (even though the last, gulp, five GOP retirements have come from members whose seats are held in very light red or even blue districts). It’s possible with another 10 months of economic growth that the GOP will retain a smaller majority in the House, albeit almost certainly a smaller majority than they have now, and Frelinghuysen would retain his gavel.
But nope, he’s a goner. Let’s hope he doesn’t take the House majority with him. Exit question via Ben Domenech: What’s the point of having an Appropriations Committee anymore? Congress governs by short-term continuing resolutions now. Appropriations is a proper task for a mature democracy in which adults engage in group deliberation, not the clown show that America has become. That may be another factor in Frelinghuysen’s retirement. Of all the jobs in Washington, what could be sadder and more pointless than Appropriations chairman?