congress

Senior Democrat and powerful appropriator Rep. Pete Visclosky to retire

The Indiana Democrat is the third senior appropriator to announce retirement this year.

Pete Visclosky

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), the third most senior Democrat in the House, announced Wednesday he will not be seeking reelection in 2020.

The Indiana Democrat, who has served for over three decades, chairs the powerful defense appropriations panel, where he oversees a budget of more than $700 billion.

Visclosky has remained enormously popular in his district — which includes declining former manufacturing hubs like Gary, Indiana — despite a high-profile ethics scandal nearly a decade ago.

“On November 6th, 35 years ago today, I was elected to serve as Indiana’s First District U.S. Representative. Today, I announce that I will not seek re-election in 2020,” Visclosky wrote in a statement.

The Indiana Democrat is the third senior appropriator to announce retirement this year, following House Appropriations Committee chief Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), who also chaired a subcommittee.

After Democrats regained the majority this year, Visclosky took over as chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee — one of the most coveted posts in Washington. As chairman, Visclosky and other Democrats fought back against President Donald Trump as he sought to divert Pentagon money to build his border wall with Mexico. Visclosky also backed a push by progressive Democrats to repeal the broad 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in his spending legislation.

But the Appropriations panel has lost some of its political might in recent years, after the ban of earmarks and the collapse of the annual appropriations process. Instead, annual spending bills have been replaced by a cycle of stopgap bills and shutdowns largely negotiated at the top level by congressional leaders.

Visclosky was a frequent critic of that budget breakdown and the myriad temporary funding measures Congress has resorted to in recent years, which mirror a top complaint by Pentagon leaders.

Visclosky’s seat is unlikely to be competitive, as he represents a solidly blue district in the northwestern corner of Indiana, where Democrats hold an 8-point advantage.

But his departure will set off a scramble within the Appropriations committee, where his colleagues will be eager to assume the task of Pentagon budget overseer.

“For the last 35 years our office has vigorously advocated on behalf of thousands of constituents for assistance on any number of local, state and federal issues,” Visclosky wrote in a statement. “While we could never guarantee positive results, we could guarantee our hard work and best efforts.”

Visclosky has kept a low profile on Capitol Hill despite his high status on the appropriations panel.

But when Democrats were last in the majority, Visclosky became tied up in a high-profile criminal investigation that centered on a well-connected appropriations lobbyist, Paul Magliocchetti, involved in pay-to-play tactics.

Visclosky — who received campaign donations from Magliocchetti's firm, PMA Group and its clients and sponsored millions in earmarks that benefitted companies it represented — was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury and came under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, though he denied any wrongdoing.

Still, the Indiana Democrat was forced to relinquish control of a subcommittee amid the Justice Department investigation into whether Magliocchetti used “straw donors” to steer money to Visclosky and other lawmakers.

Visclosky was never indicted, and the House Ethics Committee cleared Visclosky and a half-dozen other senior appropriators in 2010. Magliocchetti pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions and was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

Throughout his tenure, Visclosky has been reelected handily every election. He has won each primary with more than 70 percent of the vote, and won at least 60 percent of the general election vote nearly every cycle.

“While some successes have been achieved, we still suffer from declining population – including the loss of over 15,000 school children since 2010. And far too many people lack fulfilling employment, economic opportunity and the hope for a better future. Much work remains to be done,” Visclosky said.