Every two years around this time, the halls of Congress are crowded with boxes, as departing lawmakers pack up their offices in defeat or relief.
The departures this year have a decidedly Democratic tilt following the Republican rout in November, but the Capitol will also be losing some of its most memorable and colorful characters, from the longest-serving member in history to a conservative firebrand who used her brief time in the House to become a household name.
First elected in 1955, Dingell, 88, is the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. His presence in the Capitol dates back much further, however: As a House page in 1941, he stood in the chamber while President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his "Day in Infamy" speech responding to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. During his prime years in Congress, the Michigan Democrat was the aggressive chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, exerting influence over much of the U.S. economy and serving as a fierce protector of the auto industry. His opposition to climate-change regulations led Speaker Nancy Pelosi to engineer his ouster from the chairmanship after President Obama's election in 2008. Still, Dingell remained a forceful presence as "Dean of the House," and in his later years in Congress, he was known for his entertaining and highly-responsive Twitter feed. Dingell will spend his final weeks as a congressman in the hospital after fracturing his hip, but his name won't be going anywhere: The lawmaker's wife, Debbie Dingell, won her race to succeed him in the House.
The Tea Party star is leaving Congress after just four terms, but whether it's a career in political activism, a cable show, or another run for office, Bachmann probably isn't abandoning politics. The Minnesota conservative shot to national fame in 2008 after making a McCarthy-esque suggestion that the media investigate members of Congress with "anti-America" views.
Bachmann rose in conservative circles alongside the Tea Party, and she parlayed her fame into a presidential run in 2012 that peaked when she won the Ames Straw Poll in August 2011. Her campaign was short lived as it became embroiled in ethics investigations. Inside Congress, her voice was louder than her influence; Republican leaders paid her little attention, and the Tea Party Caucus she co-founded never became a force. Yet to her most ardent fans, Bachmann's congressional legacy may be that while her critics could say many things about her, they could never accuse her of "going Washington" or being co-opted by the establishment. Michele Bachmann's tenure in Congress wasn't long, but she remained an outsider to the end.
Forget Ted Cruz. Coburn, elected to the Senate in 2004, was the original conservative obstructionist, using the unique powers bestowed upon any individual senator to hold up spending bills to such an extent that the obstetrician from Oklahoma earned the nickname, "Dr. No." Yet in recent years, Coburn has been overshadowed by even more aggressive Republicans like Cruz and the more libertarian Rand Paul. After upholding his pledge to serve no more than three terms in the House, Coburn planned on keeping a similar promise to stay for just two terms in the Senate. But a recurrence of cancer led him to end his tenure two years early. He is making the most of his final weeks in office, returning to the theme of his early years by blocking Democratic efforts to pass legislation on veterans suicide, energy efficiency, and terrorism risk insurance on fiscal conservative grounds.
While Dingell has served the longest, Hall is, at 91, the oldest member of Congress. First elected as a conservative Texas Democrat in 1980, he will leave Congress in January with the distinction of having served at least a decade in both parties after switching to the GOP in 2004. Hall has been a reliable conservative vote in the years since, but his congressional career will end as a result of his defeat in a GOP primary run-off earlier this year.
Yet his and Dingell's departure will mark an even more significant end of an era: They are the last remaining World War II veterans in a Congress that once featured dozens. And unfortunately, like his longtime colleague, Dingell, Hall is concluding his career in precarious health after he was hospitalized following a car crash in October.
Known to many Americans as the diminutive man with the mustache, the 5-foot-5 Waxman exerted influence in both law-writing and oversight over a career that began in 1975 and spanned four decades. He was a prolific legislator, co-authoring significant laws affecting the environment, children's health, AIDS, and access to prescription drugs, among others. After Pelosi helped him remove Dingell from the Energy and Commerce Committee in late 2008, Waxman helped to write the Affordable Care Act along with climate-change legislation that passed the House but not the Senate. As chairman of the Oversight Committee during the Bush administration, Waxman served as an inquisitor, presiding over hearings on everything from steroid use in baseball to the pretext for launching the Iraq War. With Democrats unlikely to regain the House majority in the near future, Waxman announced he would relinquish his Los Angeles-area district at the end of 2014.