Senate Republicans are facing a brain drain as some of the caucus’s biggest dealmakers prepare to head for the exits.
Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntDemocratic Marine veteran jumps into Missouri Senate race after Blunt retirement Trump praises retiring Blunt, who opposed his conviction The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE’s (R-Mo.) announcement this week that he will not run for reelection is the latest blow for the GOP’s governing wing of the Senate, a coalition of policy wonks and bipartisan-minded institutionalists who have been at the center of the biggest legislative accomplishments.
Though the membership of Congress is always in flux — a third of the Senate is up every two years and the full House every two — the turnover amongst some of the most successful GOP negotiators is particularly acute.
“There’s a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge leaving. … It’s a loss of a lot of institutional memory,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – Relief bill to become law; Cuomo in trouble GOP stumbles give Democrats new hope in Texas Senate holds longest vote in history as Democrats scramble to save relief bill MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump praises retiring Blunt, who opposed his conviction The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Johns Hopkins University – Trump’s relationship with GOP worsens Dozens of Trump appointees ‘burrow’ into Biden government MORE (R-Ky.).
In addition to Blunt, Sens. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt retirement shakes up Missouri Senate race These GOP senators aren’t seeking reelection in 2022 MORE (R-Ala.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt’s retirement deals blow to McConnell inner circle Trump ramps up battle with Republican leadership MORE (R-Ohio), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: ‘I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying’ Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) and Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt’s retirement deals blow to McConnell inner circle Trump ramps up battle with Republican leadership MORE (R-N.C.) are all expected to retire at the end of 2022.
Each holds a top GOP committee spot. Blunt and Shelby, in particular, are known for their ability to craft deals; Portman and Toomey are well versed in policy and Burr has earned the respect of Democrats for his work as Intelligence Committee chairman.
Other GOP senators seen as dealmakers have also left the Senate in recent years.
Former Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt’s retirement deals blow to McConnell inner circle Roy Blunt won’t run for Senate seat in 2022 MORE (R-Tenn.) and Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsRoy Blunt won’t run for Senate seat in 2022 Lobbying world Pat Roberts joins lobbying firm weeks after Senate retirement MORE (R-Kan.) — two GOP chairmen with big bipartisan accomplishments — retired at the end of 2020. Former Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonLoeffler leaves door open to 2022 rematch against Warnock Perdue on potential 2022 run: GOP must regain the Senate Bottom line MORE (R-Ga.) stepped down in 2019 due to health reasons.
The end of 2018 saw the departure of former Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchHow President Biden can hit a home run Mellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line MORE (R-Utah), then the chairman of the Finance Committee; Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRoy Blunt won’t run for Senate seat in 2022 It’s time for Biden’s Cuba GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics MORE (R-Tenn.), then the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFormer GOP lawmaker: Republican Party ‘engulfed in lies and fear’ Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin’s objection to Neera Tanden: He ‘doesn’t answer to us at the White House’ MORE (R-Ariz.), a conservative who was willing to buck his party. Former Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainKoch network urges lawmakers to back ‘personal option’ health plan Graham: Trump can make GOP bigger, stronger, or he ‘could destroy it’ Former Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute MORE (R-Ariz.) died in 2018.
Asked about the trail of departures, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP leaders reiterate commitment to working with Trump amid back-and-forth Schumer moves to break GOP holds on Haaland Republicans put procedural delay on Haaland’s nomination MORE (R-Alaska) interjected “all of the institutionalists?”
“I think about just the years of legislating that they have brought to these discussions, it’s going to be a real loss. A loss for the institution really,” Murkowski said.
“Over the years, Congress has changed and we’ve seen different leaders rise, perform and leave. … But it just seems like, it seems like, we’re losing so much of that substantive tenure in a very short period,” she added.
It’s far from certain the current exits will be the only ones for Senate Republicans. Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt retirement shakes up Missouri Senate race Roy Blunt won’t run for Senate seat in 2022 MORE (Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee and the panel’s former chairman, isn’t expected to make a decision about running for another term until the fall. Murkowski — who Trump has threatened to campaign against — also hasn’t said if she will run for reelection.
Murkowski, asked if she had made a decision on 2022, said, “I have to do it before 2022.”
The departures are being watched closely by Democrats.
“These are people I’ve worked with for years. They harken back to an era where there was bipartisan cooperation so I’m worried about their absence,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden DOJ nominee apologizes for ‘harsh rhetoric’ amid GOP criticism Democrats near pressure point on nixing filibuster Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote MORE (D-Ill.).
Asked if he had seen the same interest in bipartisanship from newer members, Durbin replied, “not yet.”
The changing of the guard comes as many GOP institutionalists are replaced with Republicans more in the mold of former President TrumpDonald TrumpManhattan prosecutors intensifying probe into Trump’s New York estate: report GOP leaders reiterate commitment to working with Trump amid back-and-forth Top Republicans seek to tamp down concerns over Trump’s funding demands MORE.
GovTrack, a congressional analysis website, ranked Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnRepublicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal White House defends Biden’s ‘Neanderthal thinking’ remark on masks Marsha Blackburn: Biden needs to ‘rethink’ comments about ‘resilient’ and ‘resourceful’ Neanderthals MORE (R-Tenn.) as the senator most ideologically to the right in 2019. Her predecessor, Corker, was ranked 47 in 2018.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who replaced former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), has a 100 percent Trump score according to FiveThirtyEight. Shelby, while still a typical Trump vote, was at 90 percent. Former Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra House Freedom Caucus chair weighs Arizona Senate bid New rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees MORE (R-Ariz.) voted with Trump 94.9 percent of the time; McCain, whose seat she was appointed to, was at 83 percent.
Republicans only need a net gain of one seat to win back the majority next year. But they are defending 20 seats in 2022, including two in states won by Biden: Pennsylvania, where Toomey is retiring, and Wisconsin, where Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt retirement shakes up Missouri Senate race Report urges sweeping changes to Capitol security after Jan. 6 attack MORE (R) hasn’t made a decision but suggested recently his preference is to leave after 2022.
Open seats could attract Trump loyalists, which could tilt the Senate GOP further toward Trump if they are elected.
Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksDemocratic lawmaker releases social media report on GOP members who voted to overturn election The Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by ExxonMobil – Senate begins marathon vote-a-rama before .9T COVID-19 relief passage Trump sued by Democrat over mob attack on Capitol MORE (R-Ala.), the House firebrand who supported efforts to overturn the election results, has indicated that he’s looking at running for Shelby’s seat. Rep. Jason SmithJason Thomas SmithThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt retirement shakes up Missouri Senate race House panel advances Biden’s .9T COVID-19 aid bill MORE (R-Mo.) — who votes with Trump 94 percent of the time according to FiveThirtyEight — also said Tuesday that he’s considering a run for Blunt’s seat.
“I would definitely compare my record for working class families and my conservative credentials against anyone that’s named. … So, I am considering it,” he said.
It’s possible other senators will step into the shoes of the dealmakers. GOP senators who have been willing to cut deals include Murkowski, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSchumer moves to break GOP holds on Haaland Republicans put procedural delay on Haaland’s nomination The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation – CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE (Maine), Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBiden grants temporary legal status to thousands of Venezuelans in US GOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Hillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump’s account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships MORE (Fla.) and others.
“I think some of that is because of their experience, they have maybe a more extensive and nuanced understanding of not just the short-term but long-term consequences of doing things,” Cornyn said. “My experience is if we’ve got 50 others, people do step up.”
Blunt, asked on Tuesday about senators leaving from the institutionalist wing of the party, questioned if that was “fair to the members that are staying,” predicting that senators who might be more ideological now would step up to fill any void.
Speaking to reporters in Missouri on Monday, Blunt warned his potential successors of drawing hard lines on what they would never agree to.
“I think the country in the last decade or so has sort of fallen off the edge with too many politicians saying, ‘If you vote for me I’ll never compromise on anything,’ ” Blunt said. “The failure to do that — that’s a philosophy that particularly does not work in a democracy.”