House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, whose panel controls federal discretionary spending, announced Thursday that she will retire after the 2020 election.
"After serving in the United States Congress for 31 years, I have decided not to seek re-election next year," the 82-year-old New York Democrat said in a statement. "I will always be grateful to the people of Westchester, Rockland, Queens and the Bronx who have entrusted me to represent them during my tenure in Congress."
Her retirement comes as she was facing her first primary challenge in decades. A former official in President Barack Obama's administration, Mondaire Jones, had already said he would run against Lowey from the left.
Jones thanked Lowey for her service in a statement, but added a call for "bold, progressive leadership in Congress." That includes, he said, "guaranteed health care, a Green New Deal, student debt forgiveness, and a full restoration of the State and Local Tax Deductions (SALT) for families in Westchester and Rockland."
The district includes the New York City suburbs White Plains and Chappaqua and has been solidly Democratic.
The retirement of the close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi will trigger a contest for the Appropriations gavel in 2021. Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur has the most seniority on the panel, but failed to secure the chairmanship in the past. Pelosi confidante Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., could make a strong play for the position.
Lowey is trying to negotiate a compromise spending package with Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, to complete the 12 funding bills for fiscal 2020, which began Oct. 1. The government is operating on a stopgap spending measure through Nov. 21 and faces a shutdown if issues such as whether to fund President Donald Trump's border wall are not resolved.
Pelosi said that as the first woman to head the Appropriations panel, Lowey "has not only made history - she has also made a difference for future generations, through her persistent, principled work to ensure that our budgets are a statement of our values, and that the Congress invests in our priorities as a nation."