Gutiérrez leaving Congress, rules out bid for mayor, governor

Gutiérrez leaving Congress, rules out bid for mayor, governor
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Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a firebrand immigration reform advocate, announced Tuesday in Chicago he will not seek reelection to the House seat he's held since 1993.

He ruled out running for mayor of Chicago and governor of Illinois or Puerto Rico, but said he could not commit to avoid political bids in the future.

"Absolutely not, I'm not ruling out any future office," he said.

The veteran Chicago Democrat said he isn't retiring from politics, and he flavored his announcement with the city's tough brand of Democrat-on-Democrat politics while endorsing his chosen successor. 

The 13-term congressman, who's never received less than 75 percent of his district's vote, said he wouldn't have left the House if Cook County Commissioner Jesus García hadn't agreed to run for the seat.

Gutiérrez and García are longtime political allies — they both rose to political prominence working with Chicago Mayor Harold Washington in the 1980s.


However, Gutiérrez endorsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his reelection race against García in 2015, which he’s called a "painful" decision that came down to timing. He’d already voiced support for Emanuel when Garcia entered the race.

García's presence at the announcement — and a blown-up photo of the former mayor in the background — were a clear message to City Hall.

García, who pledged to continue Gutiérrez's work on immigration in the House, also made clear his feelings on Emanuel.

"I will not endorse Rahm Emanuel for mayor in 2019," he said.

While Gutiérrez attributed the timing of his House retirement to García's decision to run for the seat, he said leaving Congress would make him a better advocate for the causes he believes in.

Gutiérrez said he'll turn to activism ahead of the 2020 presidential election and the reconstruction of Puerto Rico following hurricanes Maria and Irma.

"I'm gonna go back to fight," said Gutiérrez. 

"I'm not withdrawing from the fight in favor of immigrants' rights, I'm changing my focus," he said in Spanish. "Number two, my island is calling."

The Illinois House seat is likely to remain in Democratic hands, but García could face competition for the party’s nomination. Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa is reportedly eyeing a run.

Gutiérrez's House Democratic colleagues said they aren't surprised at his decision. 

A veteran of decades of immigration reform fights, Gutiérrez has grown increasingly skeptical that Congress could pass meaningful reform. 

He was a fierce critic of former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP lawmaker: Dems not standing for Trump is 'un-American' Forget the Nunes memo — where's the transparency with Trump’s personal finances? Mark Levin: Clinton colluded with Russia, 'paid for a warrant' to surveil Carter Page MORE and Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff, when they refused to tackle immigration reform, instead focusing on economic recovery amid the Great Recession and tackling ObamaCare.

Gutiérrez was also a part of the bipartisan pro-immigration reform Gang of Eight, a group that fell apart because of political infighting in 2013.

Gutiérrez, who coined the nickname "Deporter in Chief" for Obama, pulled his party to the left on many issues, particularly immigration.

In Tuesday's announcement, he took a swipe at House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiGOP lawmaker: Dems not standing for Trump is 'un-American' Rep. Gutiérrez: 'Complete betrayal' if Pelosi backs budget caps deal without DACA Senate leaders say they're zeroing in on two-year budget deal MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP lawmaker: Dems not standing for Trump is 'un-American' Trump called for unity — he didn’t even last a week Overnight Defense: GOP plays hardball by attaching defense funding to CR | US reportedly drawing down in Iraq | Russia, US meet arms treaty deadline | Why the military wants 6B from Congress MORE (D-N.Y.), saying they'd missed an opportunity in September to push through a permanent legislative solution for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

"Right after September of this year Nancy and Chuck got together with the Donald at the White House and they were all happy," he said. "But they threw 800,000 Dreamers under the bus to accomplish that happiness."

"I understand that Chuck and Nancy and the Donald didn't have such a good meeting today," Gutiérrez added, referring to the Democratic leaders canceling a Tuesday sit-down with President Trump after he tweeted that he couldn’t “see a deal” with them on government funding.

That acerbic style helped Gutiérrez become a leading Democratic voice on all things immigration, and he boasts of helping turn the issue into one of the party's core social principles, on par with health care and gay rights.

“Luis Gutiérrez has played a unique and amazingly important role in the United States Congress, especially with regards to immigration policy. We will miss his service greatly, but I know he is a happy man facing the next phase of his career in retirement,” said Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenLive coverage: Trump delivers his first State of the Union Former Comey aide grilled by House panel for over seven hours House headed for cliffhanger vote on NSA surveillance MORE (Calif.), an expert on immigration law and one of the top Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a progressive immigration advocacy group, called Gutiérrez "our American hero."

"Congressman Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezRep. Gutiérrez: 'Complete betrayal' if Pelosi backs budget caps deal without DACA Two states of the union The immigration fight isn't really about the Dreamers — it's all politics MORE has been our champion and our leader. Rarely has one person so masterfully combined the power of a member of Congress, the passion of a movement leader, and the love of a community and its allies. He's been a torch-bearer, a deal-maker and a street-fighter," said Sharry.

In what turned out to be his last term, Gutiérrez saw an increasingly powerful Congressional Hispanic Caucus that turned to him for answers.

Rep. Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralLeft fears Democrats will give too much on immigration Trump’s border wall becomes flashpoint in shutdown fight Dem: Putin trying to 'outflank' US across the globe while Trump tweets MORE (D-N.Y.), a freshman member who spent 20 years in the New York legislature before being elected to Congress, credited Gutiérrez with hospitality and leadership.

"He was a great colleague who extended his hand to me the minute I got here and we connected immediately,” Espaillat said.

"I could only hope that I could be as effective as he has been throughout the years," he added.

And praise for Gutiérrez wasn't limited to Democrats.

“Luis Gutiérrez is a good man. He always manages to share a smile and uplift his colleagues,” Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloHispanic Dems seek vote to condemn GOP lawmaker for demanding arrests of 'Dreamers' Live coverage: Trump delivers his first State of the Union GOP lawmaker asks Capitol Police to arrest 'Dreamers' at State of the Union MORE (R-Fla.) said. “Despite our many differences we have found ways to work together to help America's immigrant community. I am going to miss him.”

Gutiérrez said he felt comfortable leaving because he trusts García to continue his legacy. He said he wouldn't be able to represent his district and work on immigration advocacy and Puerto Rico's reconstruction at the same time, but Gutiérrez added he's in a good position for what he wants to accomplish going forward.

"I'm batting [a thousand], guys. I'm doing so so well. Just set modesty aside, I'm in such a good place today. It's time, and what a better time than when you're on top," he said.

Gutiérrez credited Washington, the former mayor, with teaching him when to quit.

" 'You know, Louie ... you gotta respect people who get elected because it's tough,' " Gutiérrez said, quoting Washington. " 'I really respect people who know when it's time to move on.' " 

"This is my time to move on," he added.

Updated at 5:21 p.m.