Why Mike Gallagher’s unexpected retirement announcement matters

In recent years, it’s been difficult to keep up with the number of reports that have described Rep. Mike Gallagher as a “rising star” in Republican politics. Looking at the Wisconsin congressman’s resume, it’s easy to understand why.

Gallagher isn’t just a Princeton grad with a doctorate from Georgetown, he’s also a Marine veteran who served in Iraq. On Capitol Hill, GOP leaders tapped the conservative young congressman to chair a House select committee on China, and by most accounts, Gallagher has received positive reviews from members of both parties.

In terms of career prospects, GOP insiders believed the sky was the limit for the 39-year-old congressman — that is, until last week.

As House Republicans prepared to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro, despite the lack of evidence of high crimes, Gallagher was one of a handful of members who balked at the ridiculous partisan exercise. As The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank noted, GOP leaders held open the vote and allowed Gallagher to be “encircled” on the chamber floor.

Georgia’s [Marjorie Taylor] Greene got in his face, clearly threatening him. [Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mark] Green screamed at him, wagging his index finger. Reps. Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Jodey Arrington (Tex.) and Guy Reschenthaler (Pa.) joined in the berating — while Greene placed a call on her phone. From the first row of the gallery, I could see Gallagher, sometimes with mouth agape, sometimes swallowing hard, as he took in the abuse.

Gallagher stood his ground and the impeachment effort fell one vote short. Soon after, Politico reported that there were “storm clouds gathering” around the congressman, amidst chatter about a possible primary challenge from Republicans who said he just wasn’t far enough to the right.

Just two days after the Politico report was published, Gallagher decided to walk away. NBC News reported:

Wisconsin GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher … announced on Saturday that he won’t run for re-election this year. … The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which was one of the first outlets to report the news of Gallagher’s retirement from the House alongside The Wall Street Journal, reported Saturday that the congressman “said his future work will be in-line with his national security goals and focus on defense policy.”

The Wisconsin Democratic Party pointed to Gallagher’s decision to give up his seat as evidence that “Speaker [Mike] Johnson and the House GOP are mired in chaos and dysfunction.”

That seems more than fair given the circumstances. An Axios report from Saturday added, “Gallagher is the fourth Republican committee chair to announce their retirement in 2024 and the second just this week.”

Circling back to our coverage from last week, House Republicans have long imposed term limits on committee chairs, requiring chairs to give up their gavels after six years. This has contributed to the party’s retirement troubles: Members who’ve been forced to step down after leading a committee for six years have routinely decided to simply leave Congress altogether rather than start over on another panel.

But Gallagher has only led his committee for one year. The assumption was that he was just getting started. Instead, he’s headed for the exits — and adding to the bipartisan exodus from Capitol Hill.

What’s more, there’s no reason to believe the list won’t continue to grow. Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan told Politico months ago that many of his colleagues were asking, in reference to congressional service, “Is this really worth my time and effort?”

I’m also reminded of something The New York Times reported in an analysis of the retirement announcements: “The wave of lawmakers across chambers and parties announcing they intend to leave Congress comes at a time of breathtaking dysfunction on Capitol Hill, primarily instigated by House Republicans.”

That was published in November. The dysfunction is significantly worse now.

Traditionally, there have been large numbers of retirements when members were worried about losing. This year, there have been large numbers of retirements because members are worried about staying in an institution that appears incapable of working under Republican control.

 This post updates our related earlier coverage.

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