Trey Gowdy announces retirement from Congress
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, surprised Washington on Wednesday by announcing that he will not run for reelection.
Gowdy, 53, is the 10th committee chairman to decide against reelection in 2018, an exodus that has raised concerns about a brain drain within the GOP ranks.
Unlike some other top Republicans who are heading for the door, Gowdy has years left on his chairmanship. But in a statement, he expressed a desire to get out of politics and return to his former life back in South Carolina.
“There is a time to come and a time to go. This is the right time, for me, to leave politics and return to the justice system,” he said.
“Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system,” he said.
His departure will have a significant impact on Republican leadership in Congress, as Gowdy has long been a close ally of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), often trusted to take on difficult assignments such as the investigation into the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
“Trey Gowdy exemplifies the persona of a public servant. His tenure in the justice system allowed him to bring a deep breadth of knowledge to Congress on the importance of fully prosecuting those who commit violent crimes, while keeping victims’ rights intact,” Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement.
“He will be sorely missed in Congress, and I wish him and his family success in their future endeavors.”
Gowdy’s retirement doesn’t expand the midterm election battlefield because it’s nearly certain to stay in the Republican column. President Trump won the 4th District by 26 points in 2016, and voters there haven’t elected a Democrat to the House in more than two decades.
But a spirited GOP primary is likely, as several potential candidates have been waiting in the wings, unwilling to take on Gowdy directly.
Gowdy was first elected to the House in 2010 and quickly rose through the ranks.
The former prosecutor took over the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in June, replacing former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) after his sudden retirement.
As Oversight chairman, he’s been critical of the FBI, particularly over its decision not to bring charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information. But he’s also defended Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller from accusations of bias, telling Fox News this past Sunday his message to his Republican colleagues is to “leave him the hell alone.”
His decision to retire comes less than a month after Gowdy stepped down from his spot on the House Ethics Committee, citing the “challenging workload” of all his committee assignments. He also serves on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
Gowdy previously led the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which investigated the 2012 deaths of four Americans stationed at a diplomatic compound in eastern Libya. The committee’s work reached its climax in 2015 with an 11-hour public interview of Clinton, who led the State Department at the time of the attack. The Benghazi committee’s final report, issued in 2016, was scathing in its criticism of Clinton and other members of the Obama administration.
The committee’s work was the subject of intense controversy, often resulting in heated arguments with Democrats. That bad blood was apparent in their response to Gowdy’s retirement.
“Rep. Gowdy’s tenure in Congress made a mockery of Congressional oversight and his eagerness to use the deaths of brave Americans overseas in service of his partisan, political goals is a dark and shameful chapter in the history of the House of Representatives,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Patrick Burgwinkle said in a statement.
His law enforcement background and committee portfolio has given Gowdy serious clout in the Republican caucus and made him a regular guest on cable news.
Despite that prominence, Gowdy at times faced speculation that he might be on his way out of Washington.
Gowdy’s office had to push back on those rumors in 2015 after a speech at a closed-door GOP caucus meeting left some lawmakers raising questions about whether he was planning to leave.
Yet Gowdy also turned down opportunities to move into GOP leadership, bucking entreaties from some Republicans who saw him as a potential successor to former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Gowdy on Wednesday did not elaborate about his future plans outside of the reference to the “justice system.” He’s a former assistant U.S. attorney who served as a county solicitor in his home state of South Carolina before his 2010 congressional bid.
The congressman’s name has regularly been tossed around as a potential judicial appointment pick by the Trump administration. While he’s denied that speculation, a vacancy on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over South Carolina, opened up just one day before Gowdy announced his retirement.
Gowdy sent out word of his retirement less than an hour after a train carrying Republicans to their annual retreat crashed into a garbage truck, killing one person in the truck and injuring several members of Congress.
A Gowdy spokeswoman told The Hill the congressman was not on the train and hadn’t planned to attend the retreat.
Cristina Marcos contributed to this report which was updated at 7:47 p.m.
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