Democratic Rep. Filemón Vela announced Monday he will not seek reelection next fall, becoming the second House Democrat to announce their retirement in what could be a difficult cycle for the majority party.
Vela, whose majority Latino district which spans from the eastern Rio Grande Valley up north toward San Antonio, had been identified as a potential GOP target in 2022 — after former President Donald Trump had a strong showing in the region, and Vela saw his victory margin tighten.
The precise district lines for the next election won’t be known for months due to redistricting. But Republicans have total control over the new maps in Texas, and Democrats there say they are bracing for tougher seats overall next cycle.
“I will continue to focus on maintaining a Democratic House and Senate majority in my capacity as a member of Congress and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, while working diligently for the people I am so grateful to represent,” Vela said in a statement.
Vela saw his victory margin shrink in 2020, thanks to Trump’s surge in the region. He beat Rey Gonzalez, an underfunded challenger, with 55 percent of the vote in 2020. He won against that same candidate with 60 percent in 2018.
Trump’s unexpected success with Latino voters in the Rio Grande Valley and the upcoming Texas redistricting have heightened the pressure on Vela and Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, who represent adjourning districts.
Both Cuellar and Gonzalez believe that Trump’s gains in the valley were a fluke, and voters will revert back to Democrats with Trump off the ballot. But Republicans are eager to capitalize on the 2020 results — and they will be able to carve up the region in redistricting. Texas is on track to gain two or three seats in reapportionment, which will be announced next month.
Vela’s seat, which spans 300 miles and includes the city of Brownsville and part of McAllen, was solidly Democratic territory before 2020. Democratic presidential candidates carried it with roughly 60 percent of the vote in 2012 and 2016, but Joe Biden received just 52 percent in 2020.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) became the first House Democrat to announce their retirement last week. Vela’s retirement was first reported by Axios.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.