Congressman Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, is one of nearly 40 lawmakers leaving Congress at the end of this term. 

“I deeply respect some of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, but it’s harder and harder to work with them,” Blumenauer told CBS News. “The unending chaos in the House really takes up most of the oxygen.”

Climate Activists Call For End To Fossil Fuel Subsidies
File: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) speaks at an End Fossil Fuel rally near the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. Organized by Our Revolution, demonstrators called on Congress to take action in ending fossil fuel subsidies.

Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

“The dysfunction in the House is part of the reason why I’ve decided to leave,” said GOP Rep. Ken Buck, of Colorado. “People are lying a lot. And when you call out the lies, you’re the bad guy. I feel like I can do more outside of Congress than inside of Congress.”

“I’m at that point of my life, age-wise and career-wise, where if I have one more chapter, I want to go explore it,” 61-year-old Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat, told CBS News by phone ahead of a busy week in the House. Sarbanes has announced his ninth term in the House will be his final one.    

As Congress slogs through a year of stalemates, showdowns, acrimony and the first-ever ousting of a House speaker, a wave of incumbent lawmakers have announced they’re walking away from their Capitol Hill careers.

The large number of retirements is troubling, said some House members and staffers, because the retirees include veteran lawmakers considered to be workhorses of Congress by their peers.

House Energy and Commerc Markup
File: From left, Reps. Darren Soto, D-Fla., Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., attend a House Energy and Commerce Committee markup in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, July 21, 2021. 

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Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat in her 32nd year in the House, will retire after a congressional career in which she sponsored over 60 pieces of legislation that became law.  

In an interview from her office study in California, Eshoo told CBS News, “I’ve never run away from anything.  I’m not fleeing the Congress. I’m retiring from Congress. Do I worry about the state that the House of Representatives is in? I certainly do. I worry about the country.”  

But when pressed on whether the toxicity of the 118th Congress persuaded her to retire, Eshoo replied, “Not really. That’s not my reason. I think it’s time.”

This class of retirees also includes Rep. Kay Granger, the Texas Republican who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee. And Rep. Derek Kilmer, Democrat of Washington, the Seattle-area congressman who recently helped develop a plan and report to modernize Congress, which sought to offer “recommendations for improving and strengthening the House.” 

Rep. Brad Wenstrup is an Ohio Republican who chairs a panel investigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and he’s also a military veteran who helped respond and care for a House colleague wounded in a 2017 shooting spree in Virginia.   

The list of departing lawmakers also includes centrist senators who have a history of bridging gaps and providing pivotal votes, including Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, and Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia.

The sheer numbers threaten to bleed Congress of some its institutional memory and the relationships that helped forge deals and bipartisan legislation.

The Congressional Management Foundation, a nonprofit which provides consulting for congressional offices, said experience is already dwindling in Congress. Foundation president Brad Fitch told CBS News, “At the start of this Congress in 2023 about half of the House of Representatives had four years or less of experience in their jobs.”   

“Experience matters, whether we talking about football coaches, neurosurgeons or members of Congress,” Fitch said. “One of the reasons why Congress is having difficulty fulfilling it’s basic responsibilities to the American public is because many of them are still learning how to do their jobs.”

The retirees also include those seeking higher or different offices, including Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat and centrist dealmaker who turned a red district to blue in Virginia in 2018. Spanberger has announced she’s running for governor of her state in 2025.   

West Virginia GOP Rep. Alex Mooney is departing a seat he won after an agonizing and high-profile intraparty primary just a year ago, to pursue the Republican nomination for the West Virginia Senate seat Manchin is vacating.

The departures could metastasize. Blumenauer said he was less inclined to run for reelection because so many of the Republicans with whom he partners on legislation are leaving, citing in particular Wenstrup’s retirement.   

Eshoo’s departure has reverberated among Democrats. In a statement, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CBS News, “Congresswoman Eshoo has been a giant in the Congress of the United States. For three decades, she has magnificently represented not only her district, which she considers the best, but also our state and our country. Seeing the connection between our values and our legislation.”

The toxicity of the Congress and the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol continue to have an impact.  

“People are lying a lot,” Buck said. “Lying about the election being stolen, about Jan. 6 being an unguided tour of the Capitol, about the Jan. 6 defendants being political prisoners.” 

Some of the retirements could have an impact on each party’s ability to win a majority in the House.   Spanberger’s seat is expected to be heavily targeted by Republicans.

In his retirement announcement, Rep. Dan Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, who represents a blue-collar area in a swing state, expressed optimism on behalf of his party. He said he is confident a Democrat will win his seat in the Flint area next year. 

Manchin’s retirement has fueled speculation that he might consider a third-party run for the White House, endangering the reelection prospects of President Biden. Speaking earlier this month with CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell, Manchin expressed frustration with partisanship in Congress.  

“I’ve come to the conclusion we’re not going to fix it here in Washington,” Manchin said. “We’re losing that middle. We’re losing the core of how you come you come to conclusions to pass the bills that we pass.”