GOP struggles with retirement wave

Yet another House Republican is heading for the exits.

Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.) announced Tuesday he would leave Congress to run for a seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, making him the latest addition to the GOP’s recent wave of retirements fresh off an annual retreat to chart a path to clawing back the majority next year.

{mosads}His announcement underscores the challenges facing GOP leaders as they try to persuade rank-and-file members to stay in the House as members of the minority. For some, the prospect of holding office outside Washington has become more appealing.

“It does indicate a feeling that you can make a bigger difference at the local level or state level than often can be made at the federal level or in Congress,” one frustrated House GOP lawmaker said of Cook’s announcement.

Cook’s decision to run for local office instead of reelection to Congress isn’t without precedent. Former Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn chose to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors instead of another term in the minority in 2016, while ex-Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) opted for a stint as Macomb County public works commissioner the same year.

Another member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Hilda Solis, was elected to her post after serving eight years in the House and as Labor secretary under former President Obama.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who was part of the same 2012 class as Cook, said the long commutes and time away from family can be taxing, especially for those making weekly 12-hour round-trip flights from the West Coast.  

“If you travel back and forth between D.C. and your home — California for him and North Carolina for me — you want to make sure you are part of solutions, and this place will take it out of you,” Meadows told The Hill on Tuesday. “But to attach any political significance to this retirement for 2020 would be inappropriate.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also downplayed the recent string of retirements in a “Fox & Friends” interview that aired just hours before Cook’s announcement.

Cook’s decision became public only a few days after House Republicans held their annual retreat in Baltimore to discuss legislative strategy and how to win back seats in 2020.

A total of 18 House Republicans have left or are leaving Congress this election cycle, compared with just four Democrats. That GOP list includes five seats in Texas, which Democrats view as increasingly competitive. But McCarthy has said that only one of those seats — the one held by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 — will be especially difficult for Republicans to hold.

“All the retirements except one this cycle is in a safe seat,” McCarthy said in the “Fox & Friends” interview. “I think it’s healthy. I had one member come to me who’s been on the ballot since 1988 and he says, ‘I can’t give you a hundred percent to go win the majority. So let’s bring some new people in at the same time.’ ”

The 76-year-old Cook, who has served in the House since 2013, represents a district considered safely Republican that President Trump carried by 15 points in 2016. Cook won reelection last year against a fellow Republican under the state’s “jungle primary” system with 60 percent of the vote.

A former Yucca Valley town councilman and California state assemblyman, Cook announced his campaign for a seat on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors by stressing that his focus has always been on local issues.

“Our high desert needs continued strong leadership at the county level, and I pledge to fight for this area with the same dedication and conviction I’ve demonstrated my entire career,” Cook said in a statement. “As supervisor, I’ll work to carry out the will of my constituents, while fighting the bureaucracies in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. that seek to overrun rural communities like ours.”

The House Democratic campaign arm does not have Cook’s district on its list of 2020 targets. But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) taunted the GOP over Cook’s departure.

{mossecondads}“While Republican leadership tries to convince their Members to stick around, we will continue to push further into once ruby-red districts as we protect and expand this Democratic majority,” she said in a statement.

Some former lawmakers say that serving in a local office feels more satisfying than being a part of Washington gridlock.

Miller, who now oversees Macomb County’s infrastructure, said the kind of work she does leads to tangible results. That includes management of 475 county drains that direct stormwater into Lake St. Clair, which Miller said affects water quality in the Great Lakes system.

“I’m not surprised to hear of others choosing to do that, because guess what? You can actually have an impact almost daily,” Miller said in an interview. “And after beating a pillow for years in the U.S. Congress, I go home and I can measure what I did that day.”

And her daily commute is just a 15-minute drive from the office, unlike the scores of flights to and from Washington she dealt with for 14 years.

While she stressed that serving in Congress was an “incredible opportunity and honor,” Miller said it’s also “a lot of time in airports.

“It’s an incredible amount of time from your home and your family and friends,” she said.

Miller decided to leave the House while her party was still in the majority and she was the only woman chairing a committee — the House Administration panel.

Her successor, Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.), has expressed similar frustration with gridlock and missing out on time with family. He, too, is among the Republicans who have announced an early exit from Congress.

“The time has come to make a difference for my family, to focus my time and energy upon them, their needs, their goals,” Mitchell said.

Tags Candice Miller Cheri Bustos Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Janice Hahn Kevin McCarthy Mark Meadows Paul Cook Paul Mitchell Will Hurd
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