NEWTON, Ma. — Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank announced at a 1 p.m. press conference that he will not run for re-election in 2012, citing a tough political battle due to redistricting and “too many restrictions against what I want to do.”
“I would have had to work very hard,” Frank said, conceding that with — by his count — 25,000-26,000 new voters in his district, “It would have been a tough campaign.”
Frank’s district lost his stronghold of New Bedford and gained a number of more conservative-leaning towns.
When asked if he had any regrets about his role in the financial crisis, Frank replied, “What about the financial crisis?” adding, “I don’t have any regrets.”
The congressman instead laid the blame for the Fannie Mae–Freddie Mac subprime mortgage crisis on Republicans, especially then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Frank only became concerned for the wellbeing of the federally-backed lenders, he said, in 2005, asserting that in 2003 “I thought Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were doing well.”
“The first impact I made on Fannie and Freddie was in 2007,” he said. He was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee from 2007-2011.
Conservatives and tea partiers have made the repeal of his signature legislation, the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, a top target, and with both its namesake co-sponsors gone from Congress, its future may be in question. Despite increasing attacks, Frank stood by the regulations.
Frank said he is determined to protect the financial regulations, saying that the two issues he intends to focus on before and after his retirement are “protecting financial reform and making sure military spending is part of deficit reduction,” splitting his time equally between the two.
In a statement on Frank’s retirement, President Barack Obama said, “He has worked tirelessly on behalf of families and businesses and helped make housing more affordable… And it is only thanks to his leadership that we were able to pass the most sweeping financial reform in history.”
The 16-term representative said that his retirement from Congress did not signal a retirement from public life, saying, “I am not retiring from advocacy of public policy… I think I will have more impact on some issues.”
“There are other things I’d like to do in my lifetime before I retire,” Frank said, including academics, history and writing “about a lot of serious issues.”
“I will never,” Frank made clear, “be a lobbyist or a consultant,” saying that one of the bonuses of leaving Congress is that he will no longer “have to pretend to be nice to people I don’t like.”
Frank did concede a little, saying, “I will acknowledge one error.” That error, Frank said, was voting against President George H.W. Bush on going to war against Iraq in 1991. The congressman said he had been afraid Bush would do what his son, President George W. Bush, later did when he occupied Iraq, but that the limited engagement in Iraq in 1990-1991 worked.
Frank did not retire before the 2010 election because he saw a need to fight the incoming conservative majority — including his young challenger, newcomer Republican Sean Bielat — which, Frank said, would stop tax hikes and protect the military from spending cuts.
Frank also had some thoughts on the state of the race for the Republican presidential nomination — “I did not think that I’d lived a good enough life to be rewarded with Newt Gingrich being the Republican nominee,” he joked.
Gingrich, Frank said, is the man responsible for the “substantially deteriorated” atmosphere in Congress. As an example, Frank cited Democrats’ inability to confirm Donald Berwick — the head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid who Republicans took issue with over past quotes in support of socialized, redistributionist medicine. It was, Frank said, “One of the great muggings in political history.” (RELATED: Obama caves, surrenders top Medicare administrator)
Frank, who is 71 years old, has represented the 4th Congressional District since 1981, and is the most prominent openly gay politician in the United States. He will serve out his final term in January 2013.