Once again, Congress is ending the year in a flurry of threats and missed deadlines, but as lawmakers scramble to prevent the latest self-imposed disaster and head home for the holidays, we should take a moment to appreciate those who won’t be returning in January. Sixteen senators and 60 representatives have already left the 113th Congress or will be departing in just a few days. The end of last term marked the exit of Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, and Barney Frank, and this year’s batch of congressional graduates isn’t quite as colorful or high-profile. However, the group does include some interesting lawmakers, from the longest-serving member of Congress ever to an actual rocket scientist. And when it comes to color and controversy, Michele Bachmann is pretty much all you need. Here are some of the characters saying farewell to Capitol Hill.
Senator Tom Coburn
Reason for Departure: The Oklahoma Republican is retiring after serving just two years of his second term in the Senate. Coburn made the announcement after revealing that he’s battling prostate cancer again, but he said that isn’t why he’s stepping down. “This decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires,” Coburn said. “As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere.”
Memorable Moments: Though he’s been friends with President Obama since they were both freshman senators, Coburn said last year that his pal might meet the criteria for impeachment. At a town-hall meeting, he said he thinks “there’s some intended violation of the law in this administration” and “a ton of incompetence of people who are making decisions.”
Known as “Dr. No” for his fiscal conservatism, Coburn is leaving his colleagues with a tremendously dull parting gift: a 300-page report on the tax code. He said he hopes the project, which takes aim at tax breaks used by everyone from Kanye West to Apple to students repaying their loans, will serve as a blueprint for reform.
Representative Rush Holt
Reason for Departure: After serving eight terms, the New Jersey Democrat has decided to retire. Last year he ran in the special election to succeed the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, but he came in third, with Cory Booker eventually taking the seat. “There is no hidden motive for my decision,” Holt said. “As friends who have worked with me know, I have never thought that the primary purpose of my work was re-election and I have never intended to make service in the House my entire career.”
Memorable Moments: Holt is a research physicist who became Congress’s biggest advocate for scientific research. The New York Times reports that cars around Princeton University, where Holt was assistant director of the Plasma Physics Laboratory, sport “My Congressman IS a Rocket Scientist” bumper stickers.
Holt is also a five-time Jeopardy! champion who won a round against the IBM supercomputer Watson.
Representative Michele Bachmann
Reason for Departure: The Minnesota Republican decided not to seek reelection after a wild seven-year ride in national politics. Though she helped launch the tea-party movement and ran for president in 2012, Bachmann nearly lost her last congressional campaign. She claims her decision to step down had nothing to do with the threat of another close election or the ethics probe into her failed presidential campaign.
Memorable Moments: There are simply too many to count. Now that the President of Crazyland is stepping down, who will we turn to for incorrect facts about the American Revolution, lies about the HPV vaccine causing mental retardation, or warnings about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating our government? We don’t doubt that members of the next Congress will say plenty of insane things, but a politician who accidentally compares herself to a clown serial killer is something special.
Senator Saxby Chambliss
Reason for Departure: While it appeared likely that the Georgia Republican would face a primary challenge from the right, he said that wasn’t why he decided to retire. “Instead, this is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of our nation’s economic health,” Chambliss said.
Memorable Moments: As the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chambliss is spending his last days in Congress discussing the panel’s torture report, which he didn’t want to see produced, rather than his long friendship with House Speaker John Boehner or that time he played golf with President Obama. While he voted to release the report, he told the Washington Post it’s “something that’s not going to do anybody any good,” adding, “it’s a chapter that we had closed and I regret that they’re reopening the chapter.”
You may also know Chambliss for his late addition to the list of boneheaded Republican remarks about rape. While discussing military sexual assault last year, he commented, “The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 22-23. Gee whiz – the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.”
Representative John Dingell
Reason for Departure: The 88-year-old Michigan Democrat is retiring. He was elected to the House in 1955, making him the longest-serving member of Congress in history.
Memorable Moments: Dingell’s father was a member of the House for more than 20 years before he died and his son was elected to the seat. Dingell served as a House page from 1938 to 1943 and was on the floor when President Franklin Roosevelt made his speech after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As dozens of lawmakers paid tribute to Dingell on the House floor on Tuesday, Representative Joe Barton noted, “If you count not only his service as a member, but the time he spent as a child when his father was in Congress, he has literally been in the House for almost a third of its existence as an institution.”
Dingell was a leader on health and energy policy. He was the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee until 2009, and according to the Hill, he and his father introduced legislation for a national health insurance system at the start of every session of Congress.
Representative Mike Rogers
Reason for Departure: After seven terms in the House, the Michigan Republican who serves as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee announced he would not be seeking reelection. “I have always believed in our founder’s idea of a citizen legislature,” he said. “I had a career before politics and always planned to have one after. The genius of our institutions is they are not dependent on the individual temporary occupants privileged to serve. That is why I have decided not to seek re- election to Congress in 2014.”
Instead, Rogers plans to launch a national radio show. “It’s a pretty rare opportunity,” he said. “They don’t come around very often.” Rogers may have had his eye on the door for some time. A Cumulus Media statement described him as “a media-savvy politician who last year appeared on more Sunday public affairs shows than any other elected official in the nation.”
Memorable Moments: Rogers generated controversy by claiming that Edward Snowden was working with the Russians, and making homophobic remarks during a speech before hundreds of realtors. He allegedly joked about how “nice it was to be called ‘Honey’ and ‘Sweetie’ by a woman at an Alabama restaurant rather than a D.C. men’s room,” and described D.C. as a “cross between Detroit and San Francisco,” meaning it’s black and gay. He should fit right in on talk radio.
Representative Vance McAllister
Reason for Departure: The Republican freshman from Louisiana finished fourth in his reelection bid after he was caught on tape locking lips with a female staffer who was not his wife, earning the nickname “the Kissing Congressman.”
He got over the loss pretty quickly. “It’s all good,” he told the Times-Picayune the day after the election. “I’m disappointed, but there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. I said I’d let the people decide, and they decided.”
Memorable Moments: Aside from the obvious, McAllister recorded the most cringe-worthy ad of 2013, in a year that included a candidate talking about her talent for castrating hogs.