Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced plans Monday morning to retire from the Senate when her term is up next year.
Mikulski, the "Dean of the Senate" and the first Democratic woman elected on her own accord—not to fill a vacancy left by a spouse—leaves a long list of legislative accomplishments from her role as the former chairwoman of the Senate's powerful Appropriations Committee. But the longest-serving woman in Congress also leaves behind a long line of women who have followed in her footsteps. Mikulski built a reputation as a dogged, no-fuss legislator, but she also is well-known as an advocate for new women on Capitol Hill.
Speaking in the Baltimore neighborhood of Fells Point on Monday morning, Mikulski said she didn't want to worry about campaigning anymore, and she wanted to focus on governing during her remaining time in office.
"I had to decide whether to spend my time fighting to keep my job or fighting for your job. Do I spend my time raising money or raising hell to meet your day-to-day needs? Do I spend my time focusing on my election or the next generation? Do I spend the next two years making promises about what I will do, or making progress on what I can do right now?" Mikulski said. "The more I thought about it, the more the answer became really clear—I want to campaign for you. That's why I'm here to announce I won't be seeking a sixth term as a United States senator for Maryland."
When asked about her retirement plans, Mikulski said she hasn't thought that far in the future, but she said that in two years, she will probably be walking around the Daily Grind—a coffee shop in Fells Point—and wondering, "How is Ben [Cardin] doing?"
On the Hill, Mikulski is known as a tough appropriator. One of her early victories as Appropriations chairwoman was shepherding the 2013 continuing resolution through the Senate despite staunch Republican opposition. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid once said, "Everybody's afraid of her."
Her term ends in 2016, a presidential year, which will likely mean her seat will remain safe for Democrats. Two Democrats whose names may be floated are Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has served as a member of Maryland's House delegation for 12 years, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley—although he has his sights set on higher office.
During her tenure, Mikuski advocated to include women in clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health and to expand grants for local first responders. She also is the author of the Paycheck Fairness Act and has worked to expand child care for low-income parents. Her work often is a reflection of where she came from. Before heading to Congress, Mikulski was a social worker in Baltimore.
During her time in Congress, Mikulski also dabbled in writing political thrillers. Perhaps she will use her retirement to write more fiction instead of legislation.
After the news of Mikulski's retirement broke, Democrats came out to praise her service and fiery demeanor.
"Barbara's service to the people of Maryland spans decades, but her legacy will span generations," President Obama said in a statement. "Thanks to her leadership, more women excel in their careers, more children have access to quality education, more families have health insurance, and more people are treated fairly under the law."
"Senator Barbara Mikulski is one of the most forceful and effective legislators Congress has ever known—a woman who has always known her power and wielded it to improve the lives of others," Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Perhaps no Democratic group was more affected by the news than EMILY's List, a group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. Mikulski was the very first candidate that EMILY's List endorsed after the group was founded in 1985.
"Barbara Mikulski is among the fiercest advocates women and families that Washington has ever seen," EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. "As the longest-serving woman in Congress in U.S. history, her ability to get things done is legendary."
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.