House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth announced Tuesday he will not seek reelection after 15 years in Congress, opening a key seat in the Democratic stronghold of Louisville.
Yarmuth, the sole Democrat in Kentucky’s delegation, said he will step aside to spend more time with family. He will be 75 years old when his term ends in January 2023. He’s the fifth House Democrat to announce his retirement ahead of what is expected to be a brutal midterm election for the party.
As budget chair, the Kentucky Democrat has helped to shepherd key parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda through the House and has played a major role in the party’s latest priority: a multi-trillion-dollar social spending plan.
“The truth be told, I never expected to be in Congress this long,” Yarmuth said in a video posted on his Twitter account. “Candidly, I have found new and incomparable joy in spending time with my young grandson.”
The retirement is especially notable because state Republicans in Frankfurt have been open about their plans to keep his Louisville district largely intact — rather than cracking it up to secure another GOP district.
His departure will open up a safe, blue seat in Louisville and provide an outlet for pent up Democratic ambition in the state.
Within minutes of Yarmuth’s announcement, Morgan McGarvey — the top Democrat in the Kentucky state legislature — declared that he would be jumping into the race. Yarmuth had already drawn a primary challenger from the left, state Rep. Attica Scott.
Yarmuth joins a half-dozen other Democrats who have announced their retirement this cycle. That list includes Reps. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.). Five other members are leaving to seek other elected office.
“It’s just the right time for me. I want to have more control of whatever time I have left,” Yarmuth told POLITICO.
Yarmuth first ran for office in 2006 as the publisher of an alt-news weekly, when he stunned the nation by flipping a GOP-controlled seat and helped to deliver Democrats control of Congress.
Self-described as a former “Rockefeller Republican,” Yarmuth later became known for his outspoken liberal column, which he put on hiatus to run for office. A member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, he is known for his strong stance on issues like gun control — often wearing a bright red “F” pin to show off his rating from the NRA.
In a statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Yarmuth a “fierce and extraordinarily effective champion.”
“When Chairman Yarmuth retires at the end of his term, the Congress will lose a greatly respected Member and our Caucus will lose a friend whose wise counsel, expertise, humor and warmth is cherished,” Pelosi said in a statement.
It’s unclear who will seek the top Democratic spot on the Budget Committee after Yarmuth steps down. Caucus Chair Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is next in line, but is said not to have interest in the role.
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