Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, the dean of Jewish lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives, said Thursday he will retire, and Republicans immediately jumped on the announcement as a sign of weakness in the Democratic party.
He was first elected to Congress from a Los Angeles-area district in 1974, and his resignation will take effect next Jan 2, when his present term of office expires.
“I am grateful for my supporters and allies, who have worked side-by-side with me to fight for issues we care about: health, environmental protection, women’s and gay rights, and strengthening the ties between the United States and our most important ally, the State of Israel,” he said in a statement.
Waxman, 74, was perhaps most prominent as the chairman of the Oversight Committee during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, convening hearings about the conduct of the Iraq War.
The longest serving Jewish House member, he has taken a lead on pro-Israel issues, most recently in joining with Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to advance a bill that would increase cooperation with Israel in energy research.
Waxman stated Thursday, “House Republicans have no compelling vision for the future,” he said. “The public understands this, and I am confident that the Democrats can regain control of the House.
However, Politico reported this week that when Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was asked if her party would retake the House, she limited her optimism by saying only that the Democrats will gain some seats. She added, “I’m not going to confidently predict that Democrats will take the House back.”
Earlier this month, veteran Democratic legislators Jim Moran and George Miller both said they are quitting.
One talkback comment on an American news site stated, “Waxman’s retirement was just announced in the House GOP conference room — and the conference enthusiastically applauded.”
House Republicans, who were at a retreat on Thursday when they heard the news of Waxman’s retirement, reportedly were happy.
JTA contributed to this report.