Longtime California Sen. Barbara Boxer’s announcement Thursday that she plans to not run for reelection spawned a deluge of plaudits acknowledging the Democrat's career in Washington, which spans more than three decades.
Boxer's fellow California senator, Dianne Feinstein, said she was grateful for Boxer’s “hard work in support of women and families, the environment, human rights and her tireless efforts to modernize our country’s infrastructure.”
“She has made a real difference for California and the country," Feinstein said. The two have served alongside each other in the Senate since the early 1990s.
Boxer has “always been someone, both in Congress and in the Senate — she's always been someone who stood up for her convictions,” said Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic consultant and longtime advisor to Feinstein.
Boxer, who served for a decade in the House before moving to the Senate in 1993, was chairwoman of both the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Senate Committee on Ethics.
In Washington, there are few senators who have sparred more often than Boxer and James M. Inhofe.
“Everyone knows that you can’t find two people in the United States Senate who are more opposed to each other philosophically,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
But Inhofe, who took over the chairmanship of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee from Boxer after control of the Senate changed hands this year, said he also may have no closer friend in the Senate than Boxer, after 28 years of serving together in both the House and Senate.
“We have a respect for each other and we’ve always been able to keep things light and happy, and yet do battle,” he said. “I know you don’t believe this — nobody’s going to believe this when they read it — but I’m going to miss her.”
On the environment committee, Boxer has carried the torch for her party in pursuing legislation to counteract the effects of climate change. Inhofe is arguably the most outspoken skeptic that climate change is even a problem, often questioning the logic of global warming whenever the temperature in Washington is as cold as it was Thursday.
But Inhofe said that one of the areas where they do agree is the need for major infrastructure projects. It’s on that common ground that they’ve often found partnership. Boxer’s plan to leave the Senate could provide an impetus to bring both parties together to enact a long-term solution to a nagging shortfall in the federal Highway Trust Fund.
It’s a relationship that Inhofe said could be a model for bipartisan cooperation in the new Republican-dominated Congress.
“Others might look [at our relationship] and say this place would be a lot more civil around here if we had more Inhofes and Boxers,” he said.
For several months, speculation has swirled over whether Boxer, 74, would run for a fifth term. In a video message to constituents Thursday, she said it was time to return to her native California. Several politicians, including California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, are believed to be considering a run for Boxer's seat.
Newsom and Harris each issued statements Thursday lauding Boxer, but they did not say whether they might run for the seat.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said she was surprised by Boxer's retirement announcement.
"It’s funny, she called me and she said she wanted to talk to me personally. I thought maybe she wanted to have dinner tonight or something," Pelosi said Thursday. "Her decision is an important one for her and her family. It's all personal and individual. Sen. Boxer has been such a champion for the people of California and, indeed, for our entire country."
In a tweet, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) thanked Boxer for her "tireless service to the people of California & important issues like combating climate change."
San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, who is a possible contender for the seat and who spent $74 million in last year’s midterms on candidates who vowed to address climate change, called Boxer a “warrior for progressive causes.”
“We Californians have been very, very fortunate to have her representing us,” Steyer said.
With Boxer set to return to California full time, Steyer said he believes she will continue to serve the state proudly.
“Given her energy and commitment, I fully expect to continue to see the senator atop the famous soapbox from which she campaigned for so many years — advocating on behalf of those of our citizens who are the most in need of her strong voice,” he said.
With Boxer’s announcement, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has begun poking around California for potential candidates to run for the open Senate seat. But some GOP strategists are saying that, given the state’s voting trends and 2016 being a presidential election year that will magnify Democrats’ dominance here, the money and time would be better spent in less expensive, more competitive states.
“Whoever we run is going to lose by 20 points,” a veteran GOP consultant said.