California Sen. Barbara Boxer announces she won't run for re-election in 2016

File: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) talks to reporters before heading into a members-only classified briefing about Syria at the U.S. Capitol Sept. 3, 2013 in Washington, DC.
File: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) talks to reporters before heading into a members-only classified briefing about Syria at the U.S. Capitol Sept. 3, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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California Sen. Barbara Boxer announced in a YouTube video that she isn't running for re-election in 2016 to a fifth term in the Senate. Boxer made the announcement in a quirky video where she was interviewed by her grandson.

Boxer, 74, said that her age did not play a role in her decision. She also said that she will never retire, but that she won't be running for the Senate in 2016.

"I will not be running for the Senate in 2016," Boxer says in the video. "I'm going to continue working on the issues that I love. I'll have more time to help other people through my PAC For Change community. I have to make sure this Senate seat stays progressive; that is so critical. And I want to help our Democratic candidate for president make history. But you know what? I want to come home. I want to come home to this state that I love so much, California."

Boxer tweet

Barbara Boxer retirement video

Boxer talked about her accomplishments and said that she was going to be posting a list of 100 of her accomplishments on her website. She closed the video with a rhyme:

"The Senate is the place where I've always made my case,
For families, for the planet, and the human race.
More than 20 years in a job I love,
Thanks to California, and the Lord above.
So although I won't be working for my Senate space,
and I won't be running in that next tough race,
As long as there are issues and challenges and strife,
I will never retire, because that's the meaning of my life."

Boxer's announcement caught the top House Democrat by surprise. Nancy Pelosi says she got a call from Boxer this morning and she thought the senator wanted to make a dinner date.

But Pelosi may be the only one caught off guard: the four term Senator has less than $150,000 in her campaign account and there has been widespread speculation over the last few months that she would bow out for 2016.

President Barack Obama said in a statement Thursday, "Barbara Boxer is more than a Senator — she’s an institution." He thanked her for her time in office, saying she's "been a pleasure to work with."

Vice President Joe Biden added that Boxer "has been my soul mate in the Senate for a long time."

"It was a particular honor to work with her on the Violence Against Women Act," he said. "You always knew in the Senate if you had Barbara on your side, you didn’t need much more."

Boxer is a Brooklyn girl who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, after serving on the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

She was best known in the House for leading a delegation of female members to the Senate in 1991, asking for a delay on the nomination of Clarence Thomas for the U.S. Supreme Court, until the all-male Judiciary Committee had heard from Anita Hill, the law professor who accused Thomas of sexual harassment. 

When Alan Cranston retired in 1992, Boxer ran for his Senate seat and won. She's been one of the fiercest defenders of environmental issues in the Senate, and is the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee. In 2012, she championed a transportation bill that brought Los Angeles grants, loans and promises of more than $3.5 billion.

This will be the first open U.S. Senate seat for California since Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were both elected in 1992. The list of candidates vying for the job will be long. No one has announced yet, but the list of those likely to consider a run are:

All are Democrats. In the heavily blue state of California, it is unlikely that any Republican could win statewide office, although several are well positioned:  

Garcetti responded to Boxer's announcement, praising her while saying in a statement that he would not run to replace her.

"I love my job and I love my city and I am committed to the work here. I will not run for Sen. Boxer's seat."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee took the opportunity to take a shot in their own statement.

"This could be the first of many Senate retirements thanks to their new Democrat minority status," their communications director wrote. "Today’s news raises the question whether there will be additional Democrat Senate retirements on the horizon. Senate Democrats are already $20 million in debt and Senator Boxer’s retirement can’t be welcome news for the DSCC who has to defend a costly and hotly contested open seat.”

Meanwhile, Boxer's Democratic colleagues in Congress praised Boxer and her record.

"Senator Barbara Boxer is one of the finest public officials the state of California has seen," said Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, who also noted his work with Boxer on issues that affected California and his neighboring state of Nevada. "Her efforts to combat climate change and ensure we have clean air and clean water will be remembered long past her retirement."

“It was 22 years ago this week when Barbara became a senator, and she has certainly left her mark," fellow California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement. "After I spoke with Barbara this morning about her decision, I realized that even though she may leave the Senate, I’m confident she’ll remain a champion on the many issues that defined her public service."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reacted to the news with surprise.

"She called me before I came down here," Pelosi said. "It’s funny, she called me and she said she wanted to talk to me personally. I thought maybe she wanted to have dinner tonight or something. Oh my."

Pelosi praised Boxer's selflessness and talked about the friendship between their families.

"Her retirement will be a huge loss for the state, our congressional delegation's clout in Washington, and our party," said Rep. Schiff.

Rep. Speier gave Boxer a pat on the back in a statement, saying, "Today should be all about Senator Barbara Boxer and her remarkable career."

"For the past 22 years, my friend, Senator Barbara Boxer has served the people of California, and America, with grace, grit, and determination," Rep. Mike Honda said in a statement. "She had the courage to vote against the Iraq War, the foresight to recognize the danger of the Taliban, and the wisdom to lead the fight to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

Hear KPCC coverage of Boxer's announcement below. 


This story has been updated.