WARWICK, R.I. – After the Capitol riot, longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin said he thought briefly that the foolishness and recklessness of dividing the country would finally stop. That didn’t happen, and the Rhode Island Democrat says it’s one reason why he’s leaving Congress.
Langevin saw some of his Republican colleagues saying enough is enough. He said he hoped they would all rededicate themselves to finding common ground, recognizing that as Americans, “we're in this together.”
Instead, Langevin said, the country became further divided. It was disheartening to see “far too few” Republicans holding the former president accountable for pointing the crowd toward Congress and firing them “like a cannon,” he added.
Langevin narrowly missed being in the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.
His staff suggested he go to his office near the House floor, so he’d be nearby when called to witness the vote count and certification firsthand for President Joe Biden. Langevin said thankfully he decided to work at the congressional office building.
Shortly after the insurrection's one-year anniversary, Langevin announced he wouldn't seek a 12th term.
Langevin, the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress, said he wants to be with his family and friends, the commute has taken a physical toll and he wants to try something new closer to home while he's healthy and young enough to do so.
The polarization shown by Jan. 6 and its aftermath was a factor, too. In nearly 22 years in Congress, Langevin always tried to work across the aisle.
“I don’t want to overplay it and say that, you know, all of a sudden my mind changed because of Jan. 6. That would not be accurate, but has it had an impact? Public service, it's 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 policy wonk. I like rolling up my sleeves and solving problems. I thrive on working in a bipartisan environment.”
Langevin leads a bipartisan caucus on career and technical education with Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania. Thompson said one of the reasons they work well together is that neither has “surrendered” to the “extreme voices” in their parties.
“We're part of the folks in the middle,” he said. “Neither one of us are show horses, we're work horses. And we want to work. We want to get things done for the American people.”
Republican U.S. Rep. 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 Republican,” McCaul said. “He was just a guy that really cared about the country, cared about the national security policies of the country, and just wanted to get good things done.”
McCaul hopes the departure of Langevin and centrists like him doesn't signal the end of an era, turning the legislature into a divisive body that's far left and far right.
“I think most Americans are kind of center, maybe a little center right, but they're in the middle,” McCaul said. “And Jim really represented that well. I try to do that as well. And he’s the person I can work with and a person I can trust. And you know, trust is a hard thing to find in Washington.”
Langevin, who turns 58 this month, was elected to Rhode Island’s 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 at the Warwick Police Department were looking at a new gun. One of them, not realizing it was loaded, pulled the trigger to test it and a bullet struck Langevin's neck, severing his spinal cord.
After the constitutional convention, Langevin served in Rhode Island's legislature, then overhauled Rhode Island’s elections system as the nation’s youngest secretary of state.
When he got to Congress in 2001, Langevin said, “Congress wasn’t quite ready for me yet.”
Temporary ramps and door openers were added. His desk was raised. Movable speaker’s lecterns were mounted. A holder was added to his voting card so he could slide it into the machine.
Nearly two decades later, two lifts were added by the speaker's rostrum in the House so 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 seminal moment in his career.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called him “a force 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 of voting for the Affordable Care Act to ensure coverage for millions of Americans and make health care more affordable. He regrets that some provisions in the House version weren't in the final law, such as a public option to ensure competition in every state.
For his last months in office, Langevin is focused on helping people get through the pandemic. He's deeply concerned about the war in Ukraine. His late great-grandmother immigrated to the United States from Ukraine.
There's speculation Langevin will be the next president of his alma mater, Rhode Island College. Langevin said the position hasn't been offered, though he'd like to consider it after the rest of this term if the college thinks he'd be a good fit.
Langevin met his mentor, Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, at the college and became his intern. Langevin has tried to emulate the late senator's statesmanship. Langevin is also a big fan of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“How could I not be, right,” he said. “... FDR was never a person that made his disability the focus of who he was or what he did. He just did his thing.”
That's what Langevin says he sought to do too.
“I hope I’ve made a significant contribution to making people’s lives better, 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 to Congress.
“I believe that the pendulum does come back to the center eventually,” he said, “and we will be able to find that common ground.”