WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., is leaving the upper chamber, saying he can best help forge solutions on major national problems without the distractions of a re-election campaign.
After numerous reports of his scant campaign fundraising totals, Levin announced Thursday evening he will retire. When Levin steps down in two years, he will give up his Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairmanship and other top posts, drastically transforming that panel and the upper chamber.
Levin, in a statement, said he opted against another campaign so he can remain free of the shackles of a re-election bid to help seek solutions to a range of outstanding national issues.
“This decision was extremely difficult,” Levin said. “Our country is at a crossroads that will determine our economic health and security for decades to come.”
Levin, who has held the Senate seat since 1979, said he decided “I can best serve my state and nation by concentrating in the next two years on the challenging issues before us that I am in a position to help address; in other words, by doing my job without the distraction of campaigning for re-election.”
Among those issues: tax reform, reviving Michigan’s manufacturing sector and Pentagon budget pressures.
“The next two years will also be important in dealing with fiscal pressures on our military readiness,” Levin said. “As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am determined to do all I can to address that issue.”
Another subject on which Levin said he will press hard during his final years in the Senate is the shape and pace of the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan.
“We need to pursue the rapid transfer of responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghans,” he said. “And, as our troops come home, we must do a better job of caring for those who bear both the visible and invisible wounds of war.”
Since the new Congress was seated in mid-January, there were subtle signs that Levin might be preparing to retire. For instance, many of his SASC press releases were joint ones with the man next in line to become chairman in a Democratic-controlled upper chamber — Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
There have been whispers on Capitol Hill since January that Levin had grown tired of the partisanship that has begun to creep over from the House in recent months. Some on the Hill said Levin was frustrated by the treatment Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel received in late January and February during his rough-and-tumble confirmation process.
Levin is in his third stint as SASC chairman, trading the gavel since 2001 with former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., as the Democratic and Republican parties traded control of the chamber.
He is widely regarded as one of a dying breed on Capitol Hill — an old-fashioned deal maker who is willing to put ideology aside when it’s time to get an agreement and move legislation.
“Carl’s impact on the Senate has been felt by all Americans,” Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement. “Carl’s voice will be missed, but I look forward to working with him throughout the next two years.”
While it remains unclear just who will replace him in the Senate, local Michigan media reports indicate 30-year-old Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian Republican, would be the the early front runner. But that’s only if he decides to run; Amash has yet to formally announce a bid for Levin’s seat.
At least one major libertarian-leaning super political action committee already has endorsed an Amash bid.