May 1, 2018

Abandon Ship: Members Fleeing a Sinking Congress

With more than 60 members heading home, something must be broken.


It seems that each time you tune into the news, you are met by an anchor reporting on the latest member of Congress choosing to retire. So far this Congress, 64 members have indicated their intentions to vacate their seats, which, according to The Brookings Institute’s Vital Statistics data, is only one retirement short of our nation’s all-time record of 65 members in 1992.

With each new story of departure, the picture of Congress’ current dysfunctional climate becomes clearer. While there are many reasons that explain the current mass-exodus – ranging from aspirations for higher office to turbulent public opinion and uncertain electoral futures – retiring members have consistently voiced their frustration with the hyper-partisan atmosphere.

This refusal to cooperate prevents progress. Senator Jeff Flake, who announced his retirement after just one term in November of 2017, has observed that the Senate does not take as many votes as it should, since “there just is no market for being one to compromise.” He even suggested that party leaders have been known to instruct their members not to work or vote with members on the other side of the aisle.

Recent years have been characterized by partisan-driven departures from regular order.

  • An end to healthy bottom-up approaches to lawmaking
  • Spikes in partisanship, and declines in substantive public debate
  • An increase in bills being written and driven by party leadership

This process routinely circumvents the committee system in favor of closed-door policy making, leaving members in the dark until the last minute, when they have no chance to read what they are voting on.

It’s no wonder a near-record number of members are packing their bags.

We need the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress to:

  • Investigate what’s going wrong
  • Find solutions to reorganize our broken Congress
  • Empower serious and dedicated Representatives to do their jobs for the people they represent


For a full list of departing members, click here. Is your representative on the list?


Is Congress Working for You?