Quitting Time

Rep. Mike Gallagher walks through the House side of the U.S. Capitol towards the House Chamber in Washington, D.C., on February 6, 2024. (Kent Nishimura for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

To follow politics in 2024 is to find oneself forever confronted with startling new facts about America’s gerontocracy. A fun one I stumbled across recently: Joe Biden’s birthdate is closer in time to Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration than it is to Biden’s own inauguration.

Over the weekend, we added another to the canon. Sen. Chuck Grassley will probably outlast Rep. Mike Gallagher in Congress.

I say “probably” because we shouldn’t assume too much about the vitality of a man who’ll turn 91 in September. But if Grassley remains in good health for another 11 months, he’ll be there when the next term gavels in on January 3, 2025. Gallagher will not.

“Congress is no place to grow old,” the congressman from Wisconsin declared in a statement on Saturday announcing his retirement at the end of this year. Practically everyone else in the House and Senate, Chuck Grassley especially, politely disagrees. What makes the sentiment even stranger coming from Gallagher, though, is that he arguably hasn’t even reached middle age yet, let alone the precipice of being “old.” He won’t turn 40 for a few more weeks.

On the day he was born in 1984, Chuck Grassley was already halfway through his first term in the Senate.

Gallagher isn’t the only House Republican to have called it quits during what should be the prime of their legislative careers. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who’s 54, announced her own retirement on Thursday. Forty-eight-year-old Rep. Patrick McHenry did the same in December. It’s not unusual for young members to quit the chamber in order to run for Senate in their home state, but neither Gallagher, Rodgers, nor McHenry is running for anything this year. In fact, Gallagher declined the GOP’s invitation to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Sometimes young backbenchers grow frustrated with their lack of influence in the House and opt to retire for that reason, but that’s not true in this case either. Each of the three I’ve mentioned wields unusual power in the current majority. Gallagher chairs the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. Rodgers chairs the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce. And McHenry not only chairs the House Financial Services Committee, he briefly filled in as speaker after Kevin McCarthy was ousted in October. He’s respected enough by his colleagues to have once been touted as a future speaker himself someday.

Instead he, Rodgers, and Gallagher have decided they have better things to do with their lives than help craft the laws that will govern the world’s most powerful country—even though their party stands a fair chance of controlling both chambers plus the White House next year, presenting a rare opportunity to move paradigm-shifting legislation.

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