If Democratic Party leadership thought life after former President Donald Trump was going to be easy, they were wrong.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and rank-and-file Democrats alike were stunned to hear that one of their top congressional leaders is quitting.
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.., isn’t coming back to Congress.
And experts are already saying that the decision deals a severe blow to Democrats already struggling to hold onto their very narrow majority in the House.
By the day, the GOP sees more and more of an opportunity to take the House back in 2022.
Democrats currently have a slim 218-212 House advantage, with five vacancies.
That leaves party leaders needing nearly unanimous support to move President Joe Biden’s agenda through the chamber.
It also means Republicans need only to gain a handful of seats in 2022 to win back control. History shows that the party that does not hold the White House usually gains large numbers of seats in midterm elections. Conservative voters are also more likely to show-up to midterm elections.
Bustos’ decision is sure to fuel Republicans’ already high hopes of capturing House control in next year’s elections by eliminating a Democrat who’s been able to win over the years in a rural, blue-collar district. The district covers the northwestern part of the state and includes parts of Rockford and Peoria.
Democrats will need to retain closely divided districts like hers to remain in the House majority and don’t want to send any signals that vulnerable incumbents are beginning to bail out.
Bustos, one of the few congressional Democrats from rural America, said Friday that she will not seek reelection next year, stepping aside after playing a lead role in 2020 elections that unexpectedly saw her party nearly lose House control.
Bustos, who was first elected to her largely rural district in 2012, became chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2020 campaign after arguing that Democrats needed to do more to appeal to voters in the heartland who supported Donald Trump and other Republicans in 2016.
Instead, she drew fire from fellow Democrats last fall after guiding the DCCC to a near-disastrous Election Day. While many in both parties and independent analysts thought Democrats would modestly pad their House majority in November, they instead lost 11 seats and nearly surrendered control of the chamber to Republicans.
Bustos, only narrowly reelected to her own seat, announced the week after the election that she would not seek to run the campaign committee again. Chairing the campaign arm is a coveted post, and it can be a pathway to higher leadership positions.
In a video released Friday, the 59-year old said she takes time every decade to “reflect and evaluate what my next chapter might bring.
“That’s how, 10 years ago, I decided to run for Congress,” she said. “And it’s why, today, I am announcing I will not seek reelection after completing this term.”
From a practical standpoint, the impact of her departure is less clear. Illinois will lose one House seat in 2023 following the reapportionment of congressional districts triggered by last year’s Census, and Democrats controlling the process are sure to redraw the lines to maximize their chances.
Trump narrowly carried Bustos’ district last November after Democrat Hillary Clinton won it by 17 percentage points in 2016, underscoring its evolving tilt toward the GOP.
“Failed @dccc chair @CheriBustos has such little faith in @HouseDemocrats that she’s calling it quits. What a fall,” tweeted Michael McAdams, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Bustos is among four House Democrats who are not seeking reelection next year, compared to five Republicans.
The Associated Press contributed to this article