Walden retirement adds to GOP election woes

Veteran Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenConservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 Republicans offer details on environmental proposals after Democrats roll out plan 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 Ann WarrenNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Trump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina 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 BishopOvernight Energy: Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel | GOP lawmakers push back on bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners | Green groups sue Trump over California fracking plans Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel Overnight Energy: Critics warn latest environmental rollback could hit minorities, poor hardest | Coalition forms to back Trump rollback | Coal-fired plants closing at near-record pace MORE (Utah) of the Natural Resources Committee; and three Texans, Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLive coverage: Democrats, Republicans seek to win PR battle in final House impeachment hearing Laughter erupts at hearing after Democrat fires back: Trump 'has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis' Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE of the Agriculture Committee, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown GOP senator on Trump soliciting foreign interference: 'Those are just statements' Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel MORE of the Armed Services Committee and Rep. Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantHouse GOP wants Senate Republicans to do more on impeachment Ethics sends memo to lawmakers on SCIF etiquette Ethics panel investigating Rep. Hastings over relationship with staffer 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 John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' 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 EmmerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders, Warren feud rattles Democrats House GOP campaign chief: Members 'need to get their act together and raise more money' House GOP campaign arm faces ethics complaint over 'trackers' in Capitol buildings MORE (Minn.) said last month when Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Schiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle 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 PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch 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 RodgersKoch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Lawmakers voice skepticism over Facebook's deepfake ban House Ethics Committee finds McMorris Rodgers misused official resources 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 BurgessOvernight Health Care: Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat | House panel to examine federal marijuana policies | House GOP reopens investigation into opioid manufacturers Lawmakers express alarm over rise in cocaine overdose deaths Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE (Texas) and Bob Latta (Ohio), could also run. Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump welcomes LSU to the White House: 'Go Tigers' Republicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment trial a week away; debate night 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.”