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GOP Rep. Dent will leave Congress in May

Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentMcCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid The Hill's 12:30 Report GOP Rep. Dent will leave Congress in May MORE (R-Pa.) announced Tuesday he will resign from Congress in May.

Dent, a senior appropriator and former chairman of the House Ethics Committee, had already announced his retirement last fall, but initially said he planned to stick around through the end of his term.

The centrist lawmaker has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration and has long expressed frustration with the growing polarization of Congress. 

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"After discussions with my family and careful reflection, I have decided to leave Congress in the coming weeks,” Dent said in a statement. “I am especially proud of the work I have done to give voice to the sensible center in our country that is often overlooked or ignored. It is my intention to continue to aggressively advocate for responsible governance and pragmatic solutions in the coming years."

Dent's early exit is likely to set off a scramble for his gavel on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.

Appropriators, who just wrapped up work on a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, will face another government funding deadline at the end of the fiscal year, in September.

The seven-term lawmaker is also the co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, a band of center-right Republicans in Congress.

Dent's impending resignation raises questions about the possibility of a special election, with uncertainty magnified by the fact the state is adopting new congressional district lines for the 2018 cycle. 

The 15th district that Dent currently represents is a Republican-leaning seat where Trump won by 8 points in 2016. But the new district that Dent is vacating under the 2018 lines is considered Democratic-leaning.

“Congressman Dent consistently worked across the aisle to deliver results for the hardworking families of his district. I respect his decision and wish him the best,” said Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversFarenthold resigned ahead of ethics ruling against him GOP Rep. Dent will leave Congress in May Dems see Mueller firing as a red line on impeachment MORE (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “We will work tirelessly to keep this seat under Republican control.”

Pennsylvania election law requires Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to call for a special election within 10 days of Dent's retirement. Wolf must set the date no sooner than two months after the announcement, so if Dent resigns in May, the special election can't occur until July.

Wolf can schedule the special election for the same day as the November general election, allowing the special election victor to serve out the remainder of the 2018 cycle, while the winner of the normal election begins their term in 2019.

There's no need to worry about a primary because the parties will choose their candidate at a nominating convention, as they did in the recent race to replace Rep. Tim MurphyTim MurphyGOP Rep. Dent will leave Congress in May Politics over guns and mental health have hurt our communities and citizens Samantha Bee: Dems smell ‘blood in the water’ after Pa. election MORE (R-Pa.).

Since those nominating conventions will occur after the May 15 congressional primary, it's possible that the parties will simply choose the same nominees for the special election.

The whole situation is made even more complicated by the state Supreme Court ruling. The new district lines are for the 2018 midterm election calendar, but a special election would be required to be held under the old lines.

That means voters could have to vote in two separate congressional races in a matter of months, or even on the same day if the governor schedules the special election for Election Day. 

Ben Kamisar contributed.

Updated at 11:48 a.m.