You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation
Quiet Quitting

The Next Big Trend for Republican Lawmakers: Quitting

It really sucks to be a member of Congress on most days. And as the GOP spirals through a second week of not electing a speaker, some are eyeing the exits.

Andrew Harrer/Getty Images
Arizona Representative Debbie Lesko is one of many lawmakers contemplating a career outside of Washington.

Seventeen percent of Americans told Gallup last month that they approved of the way Congress handles its job. That number may be even lower among actual members of Congress. A growing number of them seem to openly hate the job they worked so hard to win.

I’ve written many times about how rank-and-file lawmakers get the short end of the stick when it comes to serving in Congress. They have little influence on legislation, few opportunities to shape national policy, and a constant need to set themselves apart for fundraising purposes. This fuels a performative, stunt-filled atmosphere on Capitol Hill that degrades the legislative process, both in practical terms and in aesthetic ones.

But after the latest chaos on Capitol Hill—which has seen Republicans oust one speaker of the House and then repeatedly fail, in tragicomic fashion, to elect a new one—some lawmakers appear to have hit their limit on the amount of misery they’ll put up with to serve in Congress. Arizona Representative Debbie Lesko announced on Thursday that she wouldn’t run for reelection. “I want to spend more time with my husband, my 94-year-old mother, my three children, and my five grandchildren,” she said in a statement. “Spending, on average, three weeks out of every month away from my family, and traveling back and forth to Washington D.C. almost every weekend is difficult.”

It did not help that the job also sucks, as Lesko pointed out in her own statement. “Right now, Washington, D.C., is broken; it is hard to get anything done,” she noted. “Please know that I will continue my work to improve Congress and to help my constituents and the American people. We must all work toward that end.” If Congress were functional, the personal sacrifices might be worth it out of a sense of civic duty. But since Congress isn’t functional, they plainly aren’t.

Indiana Representative Victoria Spartz, who was first elected in 2020, cited similar burdens earlier this month when criticizing Congress’s approach to the national debt. “I’ve done very many difficult things being one woman standing many times with many very long hours and personal sacrifices, but there is a limit to human capacity,” she said in a statement. To that end, she made the unusual step of threatening to resign from Congress if lawmakers did not act.

“If Congress does not pass a debt commission this year to move the needle on the crushing national debt and inflation, at least at the next debt ceiling increase at the end of 2024, I will not continue sacrificing my children for this circus with a complete absence of leadership, vision, and spine,” she warned. “I cannot save this Republic alone.”

While grandiose in phrasing, Spartz’s sentiments about Congress’s inability to get things done is a common theme among discontented lawmakers these days. South Carolina Representative Nancy Mace was one of the eight members who voted to oust then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a first-of-its-kind vote earlier this month. Like the other GOP renegades, she cited broken promises by McCarthy over bringing bills that she supported to the floor.

“I made deals with Kevin McCarthy, with the speaker, that he has not kept to help women in this country. And we have done nothing for them,” she told reporters after the vote on October 3. “Or [for] a survivor of rape, and I worked all year on a rape-kit bill that hasn’t seen the time of day, I cannot tell you how frustrating it is as a woman in this Congress, in this Capitol, to have that happen.”

Her discontent also traced its roots to how the House operates under its current rules. In the old days, lawmakers would craft the annual budget by hammering out its provisions in committee and voting on roughly a dozen separate budget bills. Some of this process still takes place, but in an era of divided government and partisan gridlock, the spending bills drafted by the House this year had no chance of passage in the Senate.

That prompted McCarthy to rely on a continuing resolution to keep spending at current levels until next month while negotiations continued. Hard-liners like Mace characterized this approach, which relied on Democratic voters to be implemented, as a betrayal. “The speaker has not lived up to his word on how the House would operate,” Mace charged. “No budget, no separate spending bills until it was too late, [and] a C.R. which takes spending power out of the hands of the people and puts all the power into the hands of a select few.”

Being a member of Congress is not easy even in good times. Those who aren’t fortunate enough to represent East Coast states must make laborious trips from their distant home districts, as Lesko herself noted in her retirement announcement. This is even more grueling for House members than for senators because representatives face greater pressure to return home and campaign for reelection under a two-year cycle than a six-year one.

The living conditions in D.C. itself are also hardly glamorous. Most lawmakers do not have the resources—or confidence in their own reelection—to buy a full-time home in Washington. Some just sleep in their offices. Others rent apartments, occasionally with fellow lawmakers as roommates. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famously could not rent one in D.C. ahead of her swearing-in ceremony because she needed her congressional salary to pay for it.

Even wealth is no guarantee that one will escape misery. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, one of Congress’s wealthiest members, is retiring at the end of his current term, in no small part because it’s a miserable job. The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins recently described how the former GOP presidential candidate bought a $2.4 million townhouse roughly one mile from the Capitol. Romney’s wife, Ann, does not live there with him while Congress is in session. It is, from Coppins’s account, a lonely existence.

“In the ‘dining room,’ a 98-inch TV went up on the wall and a leather recliner landed in front of it,” Coppins recounted in last month’s issue of The Atlantic. “Romney, who didn’t have many real friends in Washington, ate dinner alone there most nights, watching Ted Lasso or Better Call Saul as he leafed through briefing materials.” He primarily dined on salmon filets given to him by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, which he unconventionally ate on a hamburger bun with ketchup.

This is not the meal or lifestyle of a man who is enjoying himself. And who can blame him? Romney is somewhat of an outsider among his fellow Republican senators, thanks to his willingness to openly criticize former President Donald Trump, something that he says many of his colleagues do privately but can’t do publicly without risking their reelections.

Romney’s criticism of Trump has also brought with it something that a growing number of lawmakers are reckoning with: a skyrocketing surge in assassination threats in recent years. One of those lawmakers is Iowa Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a staunch conservative who initially voted for Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, one of the most aggressive MAGA loyalists, to be the next speaker. In a second vote this week, however, she changed her vote to support Kay Granger, the current chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Miller-Meeks later revealed that her decision unleashed a tidal wave of violent threats.

“Since my vote in support of Chairwoman Granger, I have received credible death threats and a barrage of threatening calls,” she said in a statement on Thursday. “The proper authorities have been notified and my office is cooperating fully. One thing I cannot stomach, or support, is a bully.” Jordan, who played a key role in precipitating the January 6 crisis two years ago, later condemned the threat of violence against elected officials.

Her experience is not an isolated one. The New York Times reported last year that Capitol Police had logged a tenfold increase in violent threats toward lawmakers between 2016 and 2021, the most recent year for which data was available at the time, with a total of 9,625 recorded incidents. That surge coincided with Trump’s ascension to the White House after a campaign filled with violent rhetoric. As January 6 showed, that tacit acceptance of political violence is now a cornerstone of Trumpism.

There is no cure-all for what ails Congress. Some of its problems are structural, like hyperpartisan gerrymandered districts, the constant fundraising that House members must do to run for reelection every two years, and most lawmakers’ lack of meaningful influence. Other problems have deeper roots in the American body politic. I don’t think that any of the particular lawmakers I’ve mentioned are so visionary or unique that the institution’s long-term health would be imperiled if they quit. But it’s worth wondering whether the status quo is giving us the best Congress we can get—or at the very least, whether something can be done to ensure that it’s not just the most venal and self-interested lawmakers who want to stick around.