The planned retirements of senior Democratic Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Charles Gonzalez of Texas are not indicative of creeping pessimism within the party about winning back the majority in 2012, says House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
“I think members are energized. I think there’s a great deal of confidence in the Democratic Caucus, that we can and we will take back the House,” Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday.
“I filed yesterday” to run for reelection in 2012, he said with a grin, scuttling any notion that he, too, might be mulling retirement at age 72.
But Hoyer’s comments come as Republicans seize on the announcements by Frank, the top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee; Gonzalez, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; and other Democrats that they will not seek reelection next year. The National Republican Congressional Committee on Tuesday sent out an e-mail suggesting it shows that Democrats are concerned about “the harsh political environment ahead,” including running on a ticket headed by a “polarizing president.”
Nine House Democrats this election cycle already have said they are retiring altogether from politics, while eight others are running for another office. So far, only seven House Republicans have said they won’t be running for reelection to a House seat in 2012.
Hoyer would not rule out more Democratic retirements.
But he panned the notion that the number so far is particularly alarming, saying there are actually fewer than during a similar time frame in 1995 after Republicans seized control of the House for the first time in 40 years.
While Hoyer acknowledged a “very difficult context” in which the upcoming congressional elections will occur—complicated for some by redistricting—he believes Americans are “looking for answers, not confrontation, which is what they got with Republicans.”
Hoyer said Frank and yet another senior House Democrat who is retiring, Rep. Jerry Costello of Illinois, both would have won had they opted to run again. Gonzalez also was expected to easily win reelection in a newly configured district, if he ran.
Regarding Frank, Hoyer said: “The good news is that he will be around for another 14 months … and we will continue to have the benefit of his advice and counsel. And at times there will be some who will still suffer the slings and arrows of his sharp and wonderfully creative tongue.”
Hoyer was later asked whether some of the senior Democratic departures might signal a changing of the guard within the House Democratic Caucus—with leaders in their 70s such as himself, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C.
Hoyer warned the reporter, “Be careful now!"
“We’re 55 million strong and we’ll get you!” he joked, referring to the nation’s seniors and echoing a slogan from AARP.