Barbara Mikulski Marks the End of an Era

The senator from Maryland announced her retirement Monday.

National Journal
Lauren Fox and Emma Roller
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Lauren Fox and Emma Roller
March 2, 2015, 5 a.m.

Sen. Bar­bara Mikul­ski an­nounced plans Monday morn­ing to re­tire from the Sen­ate when her term is up next year.

Mikul­ski, the “Dean of the Sen­ate” and the first Demo­crat­ic wo­man elec­ted on her own ac­cord — not to fill a va­cancy left by a spouse — leaves a long list of le­gis­lat­ive ac­com­plish­ments from her role as the former chair­wo­man of the Sen­ate’s power­ful Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee. But the longest-serving wo­man in Con­gress also leaves be­hind a long line of wo­men who have fol­lowed in her foot­steps. Mikul­ski built a repu­ta­tion as a dogged, no-fuss le­gis­lat­or, but she also is well-known as an ad­voc­ate for new wo­men on Cap­it­ol Hill.

Speak­ing in the Bal­timore neigh­bor­hood of Fells Point on Monday morn­ing, Mikul­ski said she didn’t want to worry about cam­paign­ing any­more, and she wanted to fo­cus on gov­ern­ing dur­ing her re­main­ing time in of­fice.

“I had to de­cide wheth­er to spend my time fight­ing to keep my job or fight­ing for your job. Do I spend my time rais­ing money or rais­ing hell to meet your day-to-day needs? Do I spend my time fo­cus­ing on my elec­tion or the next gen­er­a­tion? Do I spend the next two years mak­ing prom­ises about what I will do, or mak­ing pro­gress on what I can do right now?” Mikul­ski said. “The more I thought about it, the more the an­swer be­came really clear — I want to cam­paign for you. That’s why I’m here to an­nounce I won’t be seek­ing a sixth term as a United States sen­at­or for Mary­land.”

When asked about her re­tire­ment plans, Mikul­ski said she hasn’t thought that far in the fu­ture, but she said that in two years, she will prob­ably be walk­ing around the Daily Grind — a cof­fee shop in Fells Point — and won­der­ing, “How is Ben [Cardin] do­ing?”

On the Hill, Mikul­ski is known as a tough ap­pro­pri­at­or. One of her early vic­tor­ies as Ap­pro­pri­ations chair­wo­man was shep­herd­ing the 2013 con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion through the Sen­ate des­pite staunch Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id once said, “Every­body’s afraid of her.”

Her term ends in 2016, a pres­id­en­tial year, which will likely mean her seat will re­main safe for Demo­crats. Two Demo­crats whose names may be floated are Rep. Chris Van Hol­len, who has served as a mem­ber of Mary­land’s House del­eg­a­tion for 12 years, and former Mary­land Gov. Mar­tin O’Mal­ley — al­though he has his sights set on high­er of­fice.

Dur­ing her ten­ure, Mikuski ad­voc­ated to in­clude wo­men in clin­ic­al tri­als at the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health and to ex­pand grants for loc­al first re­spon­ders. She also is the au­thor of the Paycheck Fair­ness Act and has worked to ex­pand child care for low-in­come par­ents. Her work of­ten is a re­flec­tion of where she came from. Be­fore head­ing to Con­gress, Mikul­ski was a so­cial work­er in Bal­timore.

Dur­ing her time in Con­gress, Mikul­ski also dabbled in writ­ing polit­ic­al thrillers. Per­haps she will use her re­tire­ment to write more fic­tion in­stead of le­gis­la­tion.

After the news of Mikul­ski’s re­tire­ment broke, Demo­crats came out to praise her ser­vice and fiery de­mean­or.

“Bar­bara’s ser­vice to the people of Mary­land spans dec­ades, but her leg­acy will span gen­er­a­tions,” Pres­id­ent Obama said in a state­ment. “Thanks to her lead­er­ship, more wo­men ex­cel in their ca­reers, more chil­dren have ac­cess to qual­ity edu­ca­tion, more fam­il­ies have health in­sur­ance, and more people are treated fairly un­der the law.”

“Sen­at­or Bar­bara Mikul­ski is one of the most force­ful and ef­fect­ive le­gis­lat­ors Con­gress has ever known — a wo­man who has al­ways known her power and wiel­ded it to im­prove the lives of oth­ers,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in a state­ment.

Per­haps no Demo­crat­ic group was more af­fected by the news than EMILY’s List, a group that helps elect Demo­crat­ic wo­men who sup­port abor­tion rights. Mikul­ski was the very first can­did­ate that EMILY’s List en­dorsed after the group was foun­ded in 1985.

“Bar­bara Mikul­ski is among the fiercest ad­voc­ates wo­men and fam­il­ies that Wash­ing­ton has ever seen,” EMILY’s List Pres­id­ent Stephanie Schriock said in a state­ment. “As the longest-serving wo­man in Con­gress in U.S. his­tory, her abil­ity to get things done is le­gendary.”

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