Highlights and insights from Yarmuth’s time in Congress

Gabi Celani

John Yarmuth served as the Representative for Kentucky’s 3rd district, and Kentucky’s first Jewish congressman, for 16 years. This year, he’s decided that he will retire from the House, leaving a lasting legacy.

Prior to Congress

Before he was elected, Yarmuth worked for Louisville Today, a local magazine, and founded LEO Weekly, where he worked as an editor. Yarmuth’s editorial and column writing earned 16 Metro Louisville Journalism awards. He continued writing for LEO until 2005, two years after he sold the paper.

Yarmuth worked for WAVE 3 as a co-host and commentator from 2003-2005, even having his own show with John Ziegler, aptly named Yarmuth & Ziegler, where the men discussed current political issues.

The successful journalist realized he wanted something more – and decided to move to politics. Yarmuth won the Jefferson County general election by 5,921 votes, or 1.2%, according to the State Board of Elections

Time in Congress

In 2007, Yarmuth first donated his “post-tax Congressional salary,” which totaled to $120,000, to 38 local organizations, including the Kentucky African-American Heritage Center and the Louisville Deaf Oral School. Over his 16-year career, he has donated $1.9 million of his salary in total.

Yarmuth introduced the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act in April of 2019, which prevents any mountaintop-removal mining unless the Department of Health and Human Services deems the project as unproblematic to the health of surrounding communities.  Mountain-top removal has been proven to severely harm the communities in the area by polluting rivers and obliterating habitats.

In Yarmuth’s opinion, his greatest legislative accomplishment is the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. He stated that Congress “invested $1.9 trillion into the American people and then local and state governments. And I think, in the middle of the pandemic, [this] arguably saved some lives, and certainly kept the country from going into […] a serious economic downturn.”

His latest bill is the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act of 2022, which aims to develop an “accurate national reporting system” and an “effective system of care” outside of the welfare system and law enforcement in order to provide necessary resources to runaway and homeless youth. The bill places more focus on preventing the issue of youth homelessness in the first place, as homeless youth and runaways are especially vulnerable to human trafficking. 

Reflecting on Congress

In Washington, the Kentuckian Yarmuth had made an unlikely friend during his time in Congress: former South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy. “People don’t believe that Trey Gowdy and I could possibly be friends because we don’t agree on anything,” Yarmuth states.

He also became “pretty friendly” with Mick Mulvaney, another former Representative from South Carolina. “We have a lot of mutual respect,” Yarmuth remarks.

Despite his friendships, Yarmuth states, “Congress has become so politically polarized in a partisan way that getting cooperation across party lines has been virtually impossible.”

Working at the Capitol is also physically taxing, as Representatives have a demanding schedule, resulting in them not sleeping or eating well. Just walking around the Capitol can be tiring, according to Yarmuth.

Regardless of the exhaustion that came from his work at the Capitol, he and his office still have hope for the future of the United States.

“[My office] definitely wants to see stronger gun safety laws legislation passed,” he remarks. “We would like to see universal background checks […] for the purchase of guns. We’d like to see assault weapons banned.”  His office also wishes to see the overturning of Citizens United v. FEC.

On November 8, Louisville will elect their next US Representative. The River City has benefitted from Yarmuth’s 16 years of service in Congress.