The midterm election now a fading blip on 2014’s radar screen, retiring and defeated members of Congress have made their farewell speeches, packed up their offices and started heading back to that land outside the Beltway.
Many, though, left a big mark in Washington — and aren’t ready to kick back in Boca quite yet.
For some, a new career in a different field is on the immediate horizon. For others, “retirement” means just that. For others still, the future isn’t clear. One thing is for certain — for each of the 60 House members (29 Democrats, 31 Republicans) and 15 senators (11 Democrats, four Republicans), life after Congress will be vastly different.
“I think it probably comes as a rude shock for most of them; the adjustment is really hard,” said Gordon Adams, foreign policy professor at American University who served as a senior budget official in the Clinton administration.
First, “you are no longer a member of Congress, you are no longer the most important person in the room,” he said. Second, “when you leave you have to do your own logistics, your travel arrangements, schedule, setting up email accounts – all those little things that make a member of Congress’ life so easy.”
Retiring, but not completely
Those who did not run in the last election and are retiring, in many cases, have a game-plan for 2015 and beyond. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., retiring after 35 years, plans on working with the University of Michigan to archive all his papers, and maybe do some teaching, his office told FoxNews.com.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., outgoing head of the House Intelligence Committee, announced earlier in 2014 he planned to leave to become a radio talk show host. He told his colleagues in December he has no regrets.
“I had a heck of a good ride serving the people of the eighth district of Michigan,” the former FBI agent said on the House floor. Rogers will be hosting a new show syndicated by Cumulus Media, which also hosts a number of other conservative personalities.
“I had a career before politics and always planned to have one after,” he said when he announced his plans back in March.
Meanwhile, conservative firebrand and retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is one of the most controversial members leaving in January – but the public likely hasn’t seen the last of her.
Asked if she plans another run for president in 2016 (she ran unsuccessfully in the 2012 Republican primary), she’s claimed she has no such plans — but insists she wants to carry the conservative policy mantle in Washington.
USA Today reports that Bachmann indeed has joined a speakers bureau and will be writing a syndicated column. Her target: Democrat Hillary Clinton, who is expected to run for president.
“I was on the front lines of Benghazi, the Russian reset, all of President Obama’s failed foreign policy forays, including his failed strategy of reaching out to Iran, and she was an author and the architect of his failed foreign policies,” Bachmann said in a recent interview. “So I want to be involved in 2016 and hold her accountable for her decisions.”
Some states are losing far more members than others with the new Congress. Michigan is losing years of seniority – not only with the departure of Rogers and Levin, but the retirement of Democratic Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving House member in history.
In Oklahoma, the state is losing one of the most influential and outspoken advocates against government waste – Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., whose annual “wastebooks” were like an almanac of the year’s most frivolous taxpayer-backed flights of fancy.
Coburn has said, upon his retirement, he plans to push for a national convention to re-open the Constitution for amendments, in part to push for one requiring a balanced budget. (He’s spoken in favor of a growing movement for the states to call what’s known as an Article V convention.)
In Iowa, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin is retiring and has said he wants to continue to work on public policy issues out of the think tank at Drake University in Iowa that bears his name. He addressed his plans in a farewell speech and later on in an interview with local public television.
Harkin plans to focus on what he calls the “bipartisan” work at the Harkin Institute rather than work directly in Democratic Party politics.
“I am a Democrat and I love my party and I want them to have good policies and good candidates, so I hope to be supportive in some way, but I don’t intend to be any kind of ‘godfather’ or something like that,” Harkin said.
Retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., top Republican on the Senate intelligence panel, also has plans. According to his office, “Senator Chambliss will maintain his home in Moultrie, Ga., but relocate to Atlanta, where he plans to join a law firm. He will likely lecture some at the University of Georgia and continue to be involved in the intelligence community.”
On the House side, retiring Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., suggested he’ll be happy to take it easy for a while. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee – one of the most powerful perches on Capitol Hill — told reporters last January that Washington gridlock had inspired him to pack it in, but the “biggest motivator” was the looming expiration of his term as chair.
After 22 years in Congress, he will be getting better acquainted with his 30 grandchildren, according to his own farewell remarks to colleagues. “I think I’d like to teach some of my grandchildren how to fish if somebody will teach me how to fish,” he said.
Election losers weigh next move
For those members who fought protracted, bitter campaigns only to lose their seats, making the transition may be more difficult. There was no time to make plans. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., who lost her seat to Republican Thom Tillis in November, so far has not discussed her future publicly.
Outgoing Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., whose three-term career ended in a runoff election just weeks ago, likewise does not broadcast any immediate plans. But she wants to take off a few months to rest and consider her next move. “We’re not ready to retire yet,” she told her colleagues.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., lost his seat in November, too, but he’s making major changes in his life on other fronts. According to the Arkansas News, he popped the question to his girlfriend just recently. “She and I attended the sixth and seventh grades together,” he told the local outlet. “And so when I say God has brought joy into my life I mean it, literally.”