Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) since 2019 and a leading congressional lawmaker on federal construction policy and funding, has announced he will not seek re-election in 2022.
DeFazio, 74, who is in his 18th term in the House, said in a Dec. 1 statement, “It’s time for me to pass the baton to the next generation so I can focus on my health and well-being.”
DeFazio underwent back surgery earlier this year, and he has said the need for that procedure may have been partly caused by his many long trips between his southwest Oregon district and Washington, D.C.
The T&I panel's jurisdiction is broad, encompassing highways, transit, aviation, railroads, clean water and Army Corps of Engineers civil works. DeFazio has been a member of the committee since he came to the House.
Jeff Urbanchuk, the American Council of Engineering Cos.' vice president for communications and marketing, said in comments emailed to ENR: “Few members of the House are as well versed in infrastructure policy as Chairman DeFazio, and his retirement is going to leave some big shoes to fill.”
Urbanchuk, a former T&I staffer, said during his many years in Congress, “DeFazio has earned a reputation for being an outspoken advocate for the built environment and the industries that support it."
Dave Bauer, American Road & Transportation Builders Association chief executive officer, said in an interview, “Peter DeFazio has been a fixture in federal transportation policy for almost 20 years.”
Bauer recalls the important role DeFazio played in developing the 2005 SAFETEA-LU surface transportation authorization. “From that point forward,” Bauer says, “he’s either been an author or a lead negotiator of all major transportation legislation.”
But in the final run-up to the latest, and largest, infrastructure measure—the newly enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—the central congressional focus was on proposals and counter proposals involving the Senate, not the House.
Nevertheless, Bauer points out that DeFazio-led House surface transportation proposals in 2020 and 2021 undeniably "had an impact on the final product."
At the White House bill-signing ceremony for the IIJA, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) recognized the part that DeFazio played in that legislation, hailing him as "a maestro of all things related to infrastructure and sustainability."
Build Back Better bill
DeFazio in his announcement said, "I still have a lot of work to do in my remaining 13 months, and I'll be putting all of my efforts into that work, including helping to pass the Build Back Better Act that will bring down costs for families, create jobs, fight the climate crisis and help Americans get ahead."
In fact, DeFazio's mark is on the House-passed version of the BBB, including climate-related provisions and billions of dollars for infrastructure above the IIJA totals.
Meanwhile, a two-person contest has emerged to succeed DeFazio as T&I’s chair, or—if Republicans regain the House majority in 2022—its ranking member.
Two senior T&I committee members have announced they are seeking to be the panel's next lead Democrat: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate from the District of Columbia and Rick Larsen of Washington state.
Both Norton and Larsen sent letters on Dec. 2 to their colleagues to seek their support and outlining their qualifications and experience.
Norton, 84, came to the House in 1991, and is next in seniority after DeFazio. She noted in her letter that she would be the first African American and the first woman to chair T&I. She also observed that she heads T&I’s largest subcommittee, the highways and transit panel.
Larsen, 56, noted that he chairs T&I's aviation subcommittee. He came to the House in 2001.
According to Politico, DeFazio is the 19th House Democrat to say that they will be leaving the chamber after 2022.
Story updated on 12/3/2021 with information about the contest to succeed DeFazio as the committee's top Democrat.