WARWICK, RI (AP) — After the Capitol riot, longtime U.S. Representative Jim Langevin said he briefly thought the madness and recklessness of dividing the country would finally end. That didn’t happen, and the Rhode Island Democrat says that’s one of the reasons he’s quitting Congress.
Langevin has seen some of his fellow Republicans say enough is enough. He said he hoped they would all focus on finding common ground, acknowledging that as Americans “we’re in this together.”
Instead, Langevin said, the country has become even more divided. It was disheartening to see “far too few” Republicans holding the former president responsible for leading the crowd into Congress and firing them “like a cannon,” he added.
Langevin narrowly missed being in the Capitol building on January 6, 2021.
His staff suggested he head to his office near the House floor, so he’ll be nearby when called to witness President Joe Biden’s vote count and certification first-hand. Langevin said happily that he decided to work in the Congressional office building.
Shortly after the first anniversary of the uprising, Langevin announced that he would not seek a 12th term.
Langevin, the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress, said he wanted to be with family and friends, the commute took a physical toll, and he wanted to try something new closer to home while he was healthy and young enough to do so.
The polarization shown by January 6 and its aftermath was also a factor. In nearly 22 years in Congress, Langevin has always tried to work across the aisle.
“I don’t want to exaggerate and say that, you know, all of a sudden I changed my mind because of January 6th. That wouldn’t be accurate, but did it have an impact? Public service has changed,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Things are different, the political environment is different. And I’m not the political guy for the most part, I’m a politics buff. I like to roll up my sleeves and solve problems. I thrive on working in a bipartisan environment.
Langevin is leading a bipartisan caucus on career and technical training with Republican U.S. Representative Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania. Thompson said one of the reasons they work well together is that neither has “surrendered” to the “extreme voices” of their parties.
“We are part of the middle people,” he said. “Neither of us are show horses, we are draft horses. And we want to work. We want to get things done for the American people.
Republican U.S. Representative Michael McCaul of Texas said Congress needs more people like Langevin. The two co-founded the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus together.
“I never saw him as a Democrat or a Republican,” McCaul said. “He was just a guy who really cared about the country, cared about the country’s national security policies and just wanted to do good things.”
McCaul hopes the departure of Langevin and centrists like him won’t mark the end of an era, turning the legislature into a far-left, far-right divisive body.
“I think most Americans are kind of center, maybe a little center-right, but they’re in the middle,” McCaul said. “And Jim represented that really well. I try to do that too. And he’s the person I can work with and someone I can trust. And you know, trust is a hard thing to find in Washington.
Langevin, who turns 58 this month, was elected to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention in 1986 while still in college. He wanted to serve the people of Rhode Island because of the way they rallied around him after an accident when he was a 16-year-old police cadet.
Two officers from the Warwick Police Department were looking at a new weapon. One of them, not realizing it was loaded, pulled the trigger to test it and a bullet hit Langevin’s neck, severing his spinal cord.
After the constitutional convention, Langevin served in the Rhode Island legislature, then overhauled Rhode Island’s electoral system as the nation’s youngest secretary of state.
When he arrived in Congress in 2001, Langevin said, “Congress wasn’t quite ready for me yet.”
Temporary ramps and door openers have been added. His desk was raised. Mobile loudspeaker desks have been fitted. A holder was added to his voter card so he could swipe it through the machine.
Nearly two decades later, two elevators were added near the speaker’s rostrum in the House so that Langevin could become the first wheelchair user to serve as speaker pro tempore. He presided as the chamber marked 20 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act – a defining moment in his career.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “a strength for Americans with disabilities.” Langevin worked to pass legislation to make air travel and local transit more accessible and to strengthen the ADA.
Langevin is proud to have voted for the Affordable Care Act to ensure coverage for millions of Americans and make health care more affordable. He regrets that certain provisions of the House version did not appear in the final law, as a public option to ensure competition in each state.
For his final months in office, Langevin is focused on helping people through the pandemic. He is deeply concerned about the war in Ukraine. His late great-grandmother immigrated to the United States from Ukraine.
There is speculation that Langevin will be the next president of his alma mater, Rhode Island College. Langevin said the position has not been offered, although he would like to consider it after the remainder of this term if the college thinks he would be a good candidate.
Langevin met his mentor, U.S. Senator from Rhode Island Claiborne Pell, in college and became his intern. Langevin tried to emulate the political acumen of the late senator. Langevin is also a big fan of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“How could I not be, right,” he said. “…FDR was never a person who made his disability the center of his identity or what he did. He just did his thing.
This is what Langevin says he sought to do as well.
“I hope I have made a meaningful contribution to improving people’s lives, the people of Rhode Island, the people of our country,” he said.
Langevin is hopeful for the future and for the chances of restoring bipartisanship in Congress.
“I believe the pendulum is finally swinging back to center,” he said, “and we’ll be able to find that common ground.”