Behind the scenes, however, Frank — who was first elected in 1980 — became one of the most important lawmakers of his generation, a successful backroom negotiator who knew how to broker critical deals. With his announcement Monday that he will not seek reelection next year, he will leave a legacy that goes beyond simple politics.
Few lawmakers can claim, as Frank can, to have won the trust of both the George W. Bush Treasury Department and the gay rights movement.
“This country has never had a Congressman like Barney Frank, and the House of Representatives will not be the same without him,” President Obama said in a statement.
Frank’s influence, unusual in this day for a lawmaker who never aspired to party leadership or the presidency, has been on display throughout the 2012 GOP presidential campaign. His longtime nemesis, former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), has risen steadily in public polling ever since he suggested in a mid-October debate that Frank should be “thrown in jail” for his influence in pushing the Clinton and Bush administrations to promote homeownership and then in his oversight of the housing industry.
Never one to hold his fire, Frank, 71, hit back over the past few weeks, calling Gingrich a “liar,” citing his seven-figure salary as a consultant for Freddie Mac. “I did not think I lived a good enough life to see Newt Gingrich as the Republican nominee,” Frank said Monday at a news conference in Newton, Mass. “He would be the best thing to happen to Democrats since Barry Goldwater.”
In his Monday announcement, Frank said that, after serving more than 30 years, he does not have the energy to run for reelection in a newly drawn congressional district. Although the district still favors Democrats, half the voters would be new to Frank, requiring a vigorous campaign.
“I don’t have to pretend to be nice to people I don’t like,” he told reporters in his vintage half-joking style.
In 2007, Frank became chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and for the next four years, oversaw Wall Street, housing and the multitude of financial firms that packaged questionable mortgages into complicated trading mechanisms. This placed him at the epicenter of the most critical debates of this era, beginning with housing legislation in 2007 and 2008 that tried to forestall the industry’s collapse. In the fall of 2008, Frank was the lead House Democratic negotiator for what became the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, alongside then-Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.).