Republicans have left the most powerful chairmanship in the House twice in one year

Alex Wong/Getty ImagesJason Chaffetz and Trey Gowdy.
  • One of the most high-profile chairmanships in Congress is of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
  • But within a year, two Republican chairman have left the post.
  • It’s part of an unprecedented trend of retirements for the Republican conference ahead of the 2018 midterms.

One of the most desirable chairmanship positions in Congress comes on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Yet, within the span of just one year, two Republicans who have had the opportunity to chair the powerful committee have left the position.

The latest was Rep. Trey Gowdy, who announced Wednesday he would retire and seek a return to the justice system. Less than 10 months earlier, former Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah announced his retirement and later joined Fox News. They are two of the nine Republican chairmen who have said they plan to retire ahead of or after the 2018 elections.

Though many experts are predicting a large Democratic swing in the 2018 midterms, both Chaffetz and Gowdy hailed from safe Republican districts. Losing the seat was not much of a threat.

So why leave such a powerful post?

For Chaffetz, some speculated that the job just wouldn’t be quite as interesting with Republicans in control of all levers of government. The Utah Republican made a name for himself leading high-profile congressional investigations of President Barack Obama’s administration, but critics said he took his foot off the gas once President Donald Trump assumed office.

Additionally, Trump found himself under scrutiny from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee, most prominently in their parallel investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. So Chaffetz’s avenue to investigate Trump had become slightly more narrow.

Though he hasn’t dipped back into politics since leaving Congress last April and subsequently joining Fox News, Chaffetz left the door open to a future run.

“I may run again for public office, but not in 2018,” he said in his Facebook post announcing his retirement. He didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

A possible fit could be the Utah governorship, where Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said he would not seek a third term.

Meanwhile, Gowdy announced that he would retire at the end of his current term to return to the justice system and leave politics altogether.

“I will not be filing for re-election to Congress nor seeking any other political or elected office; instead I will be returning to the justice system,” Gowdy said. “Whatever skills I may have are better utilised in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system. As I look back on my career, it is the jobs that both seek and reward fairness that are most rewarding.”

There was quick speculation over what possible job Gowdy could have in his sights: US attorney for South Carolina, a federal judgeship on the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, or a high-ranking job in the Justice Department.

But Gowdy may just opt to go back into private practice. Politico reported Wednesday that Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, turned down the Fourth Circuit opportunity when approached recently by White House counsel Donald McGahn.

“There is more civility in a death penalty case than there is in some congressional hearings,” Gowdy, who’s won seven such cases,told Politico.

In total, more than 40 Republican members of the House and Senate have announced retirements, resigned, or announced bids for other office since the session began in early 2017.

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