LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, the influential chairman of the House Budget Committee who has played a key role in pushing for President Joe Biden's agenda to expand the nation's social safety net, announced on Tuesday that he will not seek another term in next year's election.
Yarmuth, first elected to Congress in 2006, when he unseated a Republican incumbent in his Louisville-area district, said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
The congressman is the 10th Democrat to announce plans to retire ahead of the 2022 election. Although the district he represents has become increasingly blue, the retirement of a Democrat who holds a senior leadership position sends yet another ominous sign about the party’s chances heading into next year’s midterms, when its thin majority in both U.S. chambers will be at stake. The party that wins control of the White House typically loses congressional seats in subsequent elections — as President Donald Trump and Republicans did in 2018.
Yarmuth is the only Democrat serving in Kentucky’s six-member U.S. House delegation — both of the state’s U.S. senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, are Republicans — and his district is one of the few remaining Democratic strongholds in the state. The state’s GOP legislative leaders have not revealed how they intend to redraw congressional boundaries, a process required now that the 2020 census results are in.
State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, the top-ranking Democrat in Kentucky’s GOP-controlled Senate, quickly announced he would run for the seat. State Rep. Attica Scott was already waging a primary challenge against Yarmuth, but the veteran congressman had been considered the prohibitive favorite for reelection next year. The congressman's son, Aaron Yarmuth, told the Courier Journal that he is considering running for his father’s seat.
John Yarmuth, who will be 75 when his final term ends, said he’s in excellent health but acknowledged that the “significant physical demands” of the job will become even more challenging.
“The truth be told, I never expected to be in Congress this long," he said in a video posted on Twitter. "I always said I couldn’t imagine being here longer than 10 years. After every election, I was asked how long I intended to serve but I never had an answer. Today I do. This term will be my last.”
The congressman, known for his wit and easygoing demeanor, displayed grit in defeating Republican incumbent Anne Northup to first win the seat in Kentucky's largest city. On Tuesday, Yarmuth spoke in personal terms about his decision to leave Congress after his current term ends, mentioning his “incomparable joy” in spending time with his young grandson.
“The desire to have more control of my time and the years I have left has become a high priority,” Yarmuth said.
NBC News was the first to report Yarmuth's announcement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Yarmuth a “fierce and extraordinarily effective champion” for his constituents and people across the country.
McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who frequently sparred with Yarmuth over high-profile measures, praised the congressman for his many years of public service.
“We always shared a deep affinity for our hometown, Louisville, and a strong sense of loyalty to our constituents and neighbors,” McConnell said.
Yarmuth said his focus for the remainder of his time in Congress will be on furthering his work on domestic policy.
“While I have just become a lame duck, I intend to spend the next 15 months working hard to build on my proudest moment: the passage of the American Rescue Plan,” he said, referring to the legislation that provided massive relief for U.S. citizens during the coronavirus pandemic.
Yarmuth said Congress can “still do much more for the American people.”
“And since that progress will unfortunately not be done on a bipartisan basis, my chairmanship of the House Budget Committee puts me in a pivotal position to help build an even better future for our citizens,” he said.
Many of the other Democratic U.S. representatives who have said they will retire before next year's election hail from more hotly contested swing districts that could flip Republican and ultimately decide control of the House. The GOP has already announced that it is targeting many of the seats being vacated, including that of Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb, who is leaving the House to run for an open Senate seat in his state; and those of Democratic Reps. Filemon Vela of Texas, Cheri Bustos of Illinois and Ron Kind of Wisconsin.
Republicans have seen 10 of their own House members leave office or announce plans not to seek reelection next year, though many are in seats that should remain easily controlled by the GOP.
Associated Press reporter Will Weissert in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.