WASHINGTON — The Texas Democrat who is retiring after four terms in Congress blames divisions within his party over defense spending and the lack of trust between him and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for his decision to walk away.
And he says the people he meets all over the country now are talking more about the Texas-Mexico border crisis and President Donald Trump’s response to it.
“The border is definitely a different conversation now, and the deficit reduction package that the Republicans just really moved off the table and are now changing their tune on some other stuff, it’s kind of the whole Obama recovery kind of thing that was considered very positive then and is now viewed as less than positive,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.
“We don’t have the party cohesion that we used to have, and that caused a problem for me, a few things,” Doggett added. “This mistrust between me and Leader Pelosi and some of the leadership of the party in Congress and the Governor [Andrew Cuomo] in New York, it’s been difficult. But, the political climate this year and the border and so many other things didn’t allow it to work out at the same time.”
Doggett is one of only eight Democrats who have served in Congress since 1985. The eightth is Pete Gallego, a Texas-raised ex-Marine who represents much of the same border region Doggett does and who lost to incumbent Republican Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, in November. Hurd won a whopping 57 percent of the vote in a district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Doggett said one of the biggest problems he had with Pelosi was the California Democrat’s resistance to any changes in the way Congress delivers Social Security benefits, something that Doggett says the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office agrees should be addressed.
“It is one of the largest transfers of taxpayer dollars in the country, the entitlement program for seniors,” Doggett said. “The whole program is broken, and we’re being told we have to have more and more and more benefits, and that in itself creates a tremendous uncertainty about how the money is going to be paid.”
Pelosi and Doggett have been at odds over many issues as well. Doggett wanted her to drop the issue of impeachment and focus instead on passing gun legislation. Doggett argued that under the U.S. Constitution impeachment proceedings would have to be established first, and he wanted lawmakers to start that effort now. Pelosi has never wavered on her position that Trump must be impeached if anything happens to him while in office.
Doggett’s retirement adds more uncertainty to the 2020 Senate race, which is already a hotly contested partisan battle in Texas. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican and a longtime insider on Capitol Hill, is running for reelection and is facing two Republican challengers, hard-right former state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels and Houston homebuilder Chris Turner, a Democrat.
Turner’s campaign has been aided by a number of large political action committees supporting Democratic candidates. Turner has called for breaking up big banks and forcing higher wages on the nation’s airlines, which he says are the industry that has the highest compensation and a pay ratio of 45 to 1.
The success of Turner’s primary campaign will test whether veteran lawmakers such as Doggett are capable of functioning on Capitol Hill in terms of Washington insiders’ view of their partisanship.
“I can survive out in the country doing my district work now,” Doggett said. “There’s a lot of qualified people who can hold a seat and bring their ideas to the table. That’s one of the beauties of it. And I’m still a Democrat, and there’s a lot of great candidates in Texas who are choosing to run in my district to represent their communities.”