Walden retirement adds to GOP election woes

Veteran Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE’s (R-Ore.) announcement Monday that he won’t seek reelection marked the latest sign  of decreasing confidence among Republicans, even those with top committee posts, that the party can win back the House next year.

The Oregon lawmaker’s early departure suggests a growing number of Republicans aren’t certain there’s a viable path for flipping the House in 2020 — a scenario that would have handed Walden two more years as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), served as head of the Energy and Commerce panel during the 2018 cycle.

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“This is obviously a sign of our inability to take the majority,” one House GOP lawmaker told The Hill after Walden’s announcement. “He’s a former NRCC chair, knows the district well, and I think people are also starting to surmise it’s either a Trump or Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPoll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Biden eyes new path for Fed despite Powell pick Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Storms a growing danger for East Coast MORE administration we’ll be working under — neither of which is very appealing for good members.”

A GOP energy lobbyist added: “It’s a heavy lift to get back the majority.”

Walden becomes the 21st Republican to forgo reelection, compared with just seven Democrats. He is also the fifth Republican in a senior committee role to announce retirement plans this cycle.

Other GOP ranking members calling it quits include Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopGOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee | McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce | EPA joins conservative social network Parler MORE (Utah) of the Natural Resources Committee; and three Texans, Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm If Congress can't work together to address child hunger we're doomed Ex-Rep. Mike Conaway, former aide launch lobbying firm MORE of the Agriculture Committee, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions Unnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world MORE of the Armed Services Committee and Rep. Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantTexas House Democrat who fled state announces congressional bid Republican Van Duyne wins race for Texas House seat Cook Political Report shifts 8 more House races toward Democrats MORE of the Ethics Committee.

Walden, 62, was first elected to the House in 1998 after serving in the Oregon state House and Senate. He previously owned and operated multiple radio stations, leading some on Capitol Hill and K Street to speculate that he could succeed former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) as president of the National Association of Broadcasters. But the group has denied there are any plans for Smith to step down soon, saying his contract runs until 2023.

“Greg’s career has been defined by success — as a committed local broadcaster, as a bipartisan political bridge builder, and as a brilliant legislator,” Smith said in a statement Monday. “Congress is a better place because of Greg Walden, and I’m certain he will make a positive difference in whatever path his future may hold.”

Walden won his reelection in 2018 by 17 percentage points, and his congressional seat — the only Republican-held House seat in Oregon — is expected to stay in GOP hands. In his retirement announcement, Walden pushed back on the suggestion that House Republicans have little chance at winning back the majority next year.

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“Based on recent polling, strong fundraising, and the backing of my wife and family, I am confident I could earn the support of 2nd District voters for another term,” Walden said. “I’m also optimistic that a path exists for Republicans to recapture a majority in the House, and that I could return for two more years as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.”

Walden said he will not seek any other office but will “close the public service chapter of my life.”

His announcement comes as Republican leaders argue that the House impeachment probe into President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE is sure to put the House back in GOP hands.

“Make no mistake about it: Backing impeachment will cost the Democrats their majority in 2020,” NRCC Chairman Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerSunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist GOP blaming Democrats for 'chaos' in new ad The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Did Democrats misread voters' 2020 call for change? MORE (Minn.) said last month when Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Bipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise The GOP's post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it's dangerous MORE (D-Calif.) announced the impeachment probe.

Walden served in Emmer’s role during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. Republicans expanded their majority in both election years.

As chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over health care issues, Walden played a key role in the GOP’s efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

He led a 27-hour markup of a bill that would repeal and replace ObamaCare, and helped shepherd the measure through the GOP-controlled House. Repeal legislation later fell one vote short in the Senate.

The failure by Republicans to repeal the 2010 health care law — particularly during a unified GOP government — marked a bitter defeat for Walden and the party.

During his two decades in Congress, the affable Walden developed a reputation for civility and working across the aisle. He was instrumental in last year’s passage of bipartisan legislation aimed at combating the opioid epidemic, and he’s worked closely this year with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneLawmakers discussing potential compromise to revive drug pricing measure House Democrats announce bill to rein in tech algorithms House Democrats ramp up probe of FDA approval of Alzheimer's drug MORE (D-N.J.) on measures to end surprise medical billing and to stop abusive robocalls.

“The Energy and Commerce Committee has a proud tradition of bipartisanship, and during both his time as Chairman and Ranking Member, Greg has lived up to that tradition,” Pallone said in a statement on Monday.

Walden’s retirement sets off a race to succeed him as the top Republican on the influential panel. Former House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersWashington redistricting panel reaches late agreement on new lines McMorris Rodgers worried broadband funding will miss mark without new maps The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Budget negotiators: 72 hours and counting MORE (R-Wash.) has already signaled she will make a bid for the job, GOP sources said.

Other Republicans more senior than McMorris Rodgers, including Reps. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessMaintaining the doctor-patient relationship is the cornerstone of the U.S. health care system Burgess: Artificial intelligence key for future diabetic care The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Ninth House Dem announces retirement MORE (Texas) and Bob Latta (Ohio), could also run. Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe GOP's post-1/6 playbook is clear — and it's dangerous House GOP seek to block Biden from reopening Palestinian mission in Jerusalem Hillicon Valley — Biden signs telecom security bill MORE (R-La.) is a senior member, but his office indicated he would not run because it would require him to step down from his No. 2 leadership post.

When asked who might replace him as the top Republican on the committee, Walden said it’s up in the air.

“We have top talent at the top tier, and we’ll see who runs for it,” Walden said. “I can’t say it’s always the senior person, as somebody who got elected over the senior person. And so you know it’ll be a fight, a competition.”