Good Morning America on Sunday derided the idea that Democratic retirements in Congress spell bad news for the party in 2010. John Hendren, a day before Evan Bayh announced he's leaving the Senate, dismissed, "But, for now, despite all the passionate, anti-incumbent tea parties, the math suggests limited changes on Capitol Hill. A tempest in a teapot." [Audio available here.]
Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland appeared and offered an optimistic spin. However, Hendren failed to mention that Van Hollen is also the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). So, when Van Hollen touted, "For new Presidents, the first midterm election can be very perilous for the President's party," wouldn't it be honest to inform viewers that it's the Congressman's job to offer happy talk?
Van Hollen also added, "The suggestion that you have these Democrats leaving in droves is just flat-wrong." And while it's true that a number of Republican congressmen and senators are retiring, Hendren left out any context.
He featured no conservative analysis of the retirements. In a piece on the same subject that appeared in the February 11 Washington Post, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (NRCC) argued that "not all retirements are created equal."
He lobbied, "The fact of the matter is Democrats in swing districts are retiring because they know what November has in store for them." But, Hendren skipped this perspective in his piece.
After asking what is happening on Capitol Hill, Hendren insisted that the retirement threat to Democrats is "one part fiction." He lectured, "The sense of dramatic change is more about who is leaving, high profile Democrats like Patrick Kennedy and Chris Dodd, than how many." Of course, a day after this report, Bayh announced he would not seek reelection and another Democratic seat became vulnerable.
A transcript of the February 14 segment, which aired at 8:09am EST, follows:
KATE SNOW: Let's turn to tumultuous politics now. It seems like the thing to do on Capitol Hill these days is retire. Congressman Patrick Kennedy is the latest congressional incumbent to announce he will not run again. So, why are so many members of Congress appearing to be running for the hills? John Hendren is at the Capitol with the answer this morning. Good morning, John.
JOHN HENDREN: Good morning, Kate. Liberal lion Ted Kennedy is gone. Replaced by a Republican. Tea party goers are crying, throw the bums out. And it seems like one Democrat after another is fleeing the Capitol. But, you might be surprised what we found when he crunched the numbers. The last Kennedy is leaving the building.
PATRICK KENNEDY: I don't consider this a retirement per se. I think of it mostly as a sabbatical.
HENDREN: In 2011, Congress will open without a Kennedy for the first time in 64 years. Marking the late in a series of recent Capitol farewells.
CHRIS DODD: I will not be a candidate for reelection this November.
UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN: It is a demanding job.
MEL MARTINEZ: It is time to return to Florida and my family.
HENDREN: A rationale even some of their colleagues find incredible.
SENATOR CHRIS DODD: There's nothing more pathetic, in my view, than a politician who announces they're only leaving public life to spend more time with their family.
HENDREN: And it isn't just Democrats. While analysts expect Democrats to lose some seats in 2010, more Republicans are retiring. In the House, there are just 13 seats left open by Democrats, less than half the number during the GOP sweep of 1994. Republicans are defending 18.
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): The suggestion that you have these Democrats leaving in droves is just flat-wrong.
HENDREN: So, what exactly is happening on Capitol Hill? It is one part partisan warfare.
REP. JOE WILSON: You lie!
SUSAN MILLIGAN (Political reporter, The Boston Globe): Some of them have just had it. The hill is an incredibly poisonous place right now. It's like Lord of the Rings up there.
HENDREN: One part anti-incumbent fever.
VAN HOLLEN: For new Presidents, the first midterm election can be very perilous for the President's party.
HENDREN: And one part sheer frustration.
MILLIGAN: The Republicans feel powerless because they're in the minority. The Democrats feel powerless because they have these huge majorities and they can't get done what they want to get done.
HENDREN: It is also one part fiction. The sense of dramatic change is more about who is leaving, high profile Democrats like Patrick Kennedy and Chris Dodd, than how many. Few seats are competitive in the Senate. In the House, where Republicans need to win 40 seats to retake control, just 30 members are retiring. Fewer than usual. For those who remain, nearly all are re-elected. In politics, the nine months between now and November can amount to a lifetime. But, for now, despite all the passionate, anti-incumbent tea parties, the math suggests limited changes on Capitol Hill. A tempest in a teapot. Kate?