Take Five: Retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer

California Democrat is looking forward to ‘a more normal life’ but won't stop advocacy work

California Sen. Barbara Boxer displays photographs of all the male senators who held her seat before her above her desk in her Hart. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
California Sen. Barbara Boxer displays photographs of all the male senators who held her seat before her above her desk in her Hart. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:00am

California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, 76, is retiring this month after 34 years in Congress. She talked to HOH about advice for her successor, her marriage, and her plans off the Hill.

[Take Five: Retiring Rep. Charlie Rangel]

Q: What advice have you given Sen.-elect Kamala Harris?

A: I’ve had several meetings with her and I’m very excited by the fact that I’m being succeeded by her. All the people that have ever held my seat from the beginning of time, from 1850 when [California] first got a seat — needless to say, there wasn’t a woman. She’s carrying on that tradition and she’s adding something, which is she’s a minority woman.

So what I told her is, it’s a very powerful position, when you walk in here, you have a bully pulpit and you have the ability to stop everything if you want. An individual senator has a lot of power. Use it wisely and never be afraid to fight for what you believe in. Never. Because that’s my modus operandi. And I think it’s served the people well. 

Boxer first entered the House in 1983.
Boxer first entered the House in 1983. She is shown here in 1998. (Susana Raab/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Q: What do you want to do when you retire?

A: The thing I’m looking forward to most, of course, is being with my husband more than I’ve been able to because I’ve done the commuting for 34 years. We only missed, in all the 34 years, one weekend together — I got a cold, I could not fly. Now, we’ll be able to be together every day. I’ve been married a very long time, 54 years in January, and we really are excited — this was my college sweetheart. I’m looking forward to not having to kiss him goodbye every Monday at five in the morning.

And also, I’m looking forward to being more in one time zone. People say, how do you do it? I say, ‘I’m always over Iowa. My body’s always over Iowa.’ I just want to be able to have a more normal life and I’m not going to stop any of my advocacy work. I’m going to be right out there. 

[Take Five: Sen. David Vitter]

Q: When you leave, whom or what will you miss?

A: I’ll miss the people here. I’ll miss my staff. I adore them, they’ve become part of my family. We’re very close the way we work and I keep people a very long time. I have people here for more than 20 years and in California, the same. So clearly, missing them because they’re so dedicated and they care deeply like I do.

I will miss my colleagues in the Senate, for sure. One of the great things that I’ve been exposed to because of my career is just getting in somebody else’s shoes. What is it like to come from Oklahoma, what is it like to come from Arkansas, what is it like to come from Montana, Florida. You do that in the course of your work and it expands your reach of what you understand about the world and I will miss that. On the other side of the aisle, the ribbing and the repartee. I have really good relationships on both sides that I treasure. You can kid yourself and say, ‘Oh you’ll call people,’ but it’s not the same, it’s just not. Let’s face it, you just have to admit that there will be differences and that’s one of them. You’re not going to be in the middle of the fight. But, I’m gonna be in the fight.

Q: Why are you retiring?

A: It was a family decision that I made a while ago and it’s several reasons. The fact that I do want to have a quality of life that isn’t dictated by when I have to be here and when I have to leave. It’s hard to do that all the way from California. Unless you move lock, stock and barrel to D.C., which would never be something I would ever do because I just love California. So, one reason was quality of life and more time with my spouse. But also, there is a time when you want the next generation to step in and step up. So, having said those two things, I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t feel we had a deep bench at home to run for my seat. I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t see senators here who would pick up my issues that I’ve held so close to my heart. So, it all came together.