Rep. Dan Kildee will not seek reelection in his battleground Michigan district after a decade-long career in the House.
The Flint, Mich. native — who has risen through the House Democratic ranks over six terms — told POLITICO he made the decision to leave elected office following this term after battling health issues this year.
“One of the things about going through a tough health diagnosis and then coming out OK … it does cause you to sort of sit back and say, OK, what are my priorities?” Kildee said, referring to the cancerous tumor he had removed earlier this year.
His decision will open up a competitive seat in mid-Michigan — the newly redrawn 8th District that Kildee handily won last fall after the GOP struggled to recruit a strong challenger. So far, Republicans also lack a serious candidate for this cycle, though that task will suddenly become more urgent for the GOP as they look to flip a seat that narrowly backed President Joe Biden in 2020.
But while he is stepping away from elected office, Kildee said he is “definitely not retiring” and plans to campaign actively across Michigan in 2024. And with nearly $1 million of cash in his own campaign war chest as of the last quarter, he’ll have the resources to help Democratic candidates, particularly whoever decides to run for his own Flint-area seat.
The Michigander, who serves as co-chair of the Democratic caucus’ steering committee and sits on the powerful Ways and Means panel, is particularly close to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. After the two arrived in Congress together in 2013, Kildee served on Jeffries’ whip team for the 2018 leadership elections and urged Jeffries early in their Hill careers to seek the caucus’ top spot when it opened up.
When he sat down with Jeffries to inform him of the decision, he told the New Yorker it was difficult to leave when he could miss out on serving under the first Black speaker in history if Democrats flip the House. (He promised to be there for the swearing-in, even if he was no longer a member of Congress.)
Kildee, a longtime Joe Biden ally, also informed the president of his plans, and the two plan to meet at the White House soon.
Kildee’s departure from the House — while a surprise to many of his colleagues — is not entirely unexpected among those who know him. In the last few years, the Michigan Democrat grappled with his own health challenges, and has been increasingly vocal about the growing dysfunction and trust issues among House members.
“When I weigh how things are working here, and maybe a different way I can make a difference back home and be close to family, it became a pretty easy decision,” he said.
In January 2021, he was among two dozen members trapped in the House gallery as pro-Trump rioters attempted to force their way into the chamber. He was later treated for PTSD, and has been public about his mental health struggles — as well his ability to work closely with Republicans after many in the party largely downplayed the attack.
Two years later, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. By April of this year, he had been declared cancer-free.
For most of the year, Kildee said he was actively planning to run again. But he said his cancer battle led him to “reassess” his path — a decision he toiled over for several months. And while he hasn’t decided what he’ll do next, he will not run for any other elected office and suggested he could return to his roots in the nonprofit sector.
As for his legislative legacy, Kildee will perhaps best be known for championing the $170 million package to fix Flint’s massive water contamination crisis — one of the worst municipal water crises in modern history.
Kildee recalled the moment in December 2016 when then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent him to then-Speaker Paul Ryan’s office to directly hammer out a funding deal for Flint.
She had informed Ryan on the phone that he would need to meet one of Democrats’ priorities to advance a year-end spending deal, but didn’t say which. She simply told Ryan: “I’m going to send someone over right now to work out the details,” Kildee recalled.
As Kildee walked into the speaker’s office, Ryan told him, “I guess I know which one of your priorities we’re going to take care of.” Seven hours later, the deal was done.