Trump Fatigue? Chaffetz to Bolt Early from Congress

One congressman may be feeling that the recent drama gripping Washington is just too much.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will depart Congress on June 30, according to reports from Politico and Reuters.

Now Chaffetz will leave the huge and complex task of investigating a president of his own party, without being seen as unfairly harsh or overly soft, to a new GOP chairman.

The true motive for Chaffetz’s sudden departure is unclear. Many lawmakers leave the House to return home to lay plans for higher office or in pursuit of better paychecks.

But Chaffetz’s departure is particularly notable given that his committee is tasked with investigating any potential wrongdoing in the executive branch. The Oversight Committee will be responsible for examining the circumstances of President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, among other sensitive issues.

It’s not that there’s criminal wrongdoing in the White House to check, but the scale and pace of controversy has reportedly exhausted GOP lawmakers — a pain likely felt most acutely among those responsible for government oversight. Critics of Trump have not been able to leak one iota of proof of criminal wrongdoing by Trump or his associates tying them to Russian misdeeds. But the day-after-day barrage of bombshell stories has meant a constant stream of uncomfortable questions for often skittish members of Congress.

On Thursday, Chaffetz confirmed he will leave Congress on June 30 after 10 years and just six months into his latest two-year term. It’s unclear if Chaffetz will seek employment at Fox News, as reported, or if he will run for governor of Utah in 2018. One thing is clear, though: Resigning his seat early gets him out of the middle of the nation’s biggest maelstrom.

Before he leaves, Chaffetz has made clear he will subpoena Comey’s reported memos. The memos allegedly show Trump told Comey he hoped the FBI would drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. Flynn resigned on Feb. 13.

Chaffetz originally announced in February he would not seek reelection in 2018, but left unclear whether he would serve out his term.

Now Chaffetz will leave the huge and complex task of investigating a president of his own party, without being seen as unfairly harsh or overly soft, to a new GOP chairman.

Several of the leading contendors to replace Chaffetz are thought to be out of consideration.

Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) is the most senior Republican on the committee, but is reported to have his eyes set on chairing the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is next in seniority but has already chaired the Oversight Committee; House Republicans typically try to avoid recycling recent chairmen.

That leaves a handful of other leading contenders, by order of seniority:

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
Jordan is the possible contender for House Oversight chairman who would draw the greatest freakout from moderate Republicans if he were to be tapped.

Jordan, the founding chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is reportedly in the running, but GOP moderates loathe the Freedom Caucus, blaming the group for killing the first pass at repealing Obamacare and for contributing to the ouster of former House Speaker John Boehner for his refusal to more vigorously fight former President Barack Obama’s agenda.

Jordan, as the next most senior member of the committee after Duncan and Issa, should be a possible frontrunner — but his is the bid most likely to be derailed by internal GOP strife.

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.)
Sanford was the governor of South Carolina from 2003 to 2011. He was embroiled in controversy when word leaked he had left the state in June 2009 to carry on an extramarital affair with an Argentinian businesswoman. Sanford’s people famously said the governor had left the state to “hike the Appalachian trail.”

Sanford, in a remarkable political comeback, won a special election for a seat he had previously held in Congress, vacated when Tim Scott was appointed U.S. senator. In Congress, Sanford has irritated President Trump with his outspoken criticisms. In August 2016, Sanford became one of the few GOP lawmakers to suggest that Trump release his tax returns.

Sanford was also among a block of conservative House members who opposed the first version of a leadership-backed Obamacare-repeal package backed by the White House. Trump reportedly dispatched Mick Mulvaney, his director of Office of Management and Budget and a former South Carolina congressman, to tell Sanford he would earn a Republican primary challenge if he voted against the bill.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.)
Gowdy already has the credibility earned by overseeing a complex, highly politically charged investigation. He was chairman of the House Select Committee that investigated the terrorist attacks at the Benghazi consulate in 2012.

Gowdy, a former prosecutor, is far behind in committee seniority, but is viewed as highly credible, incredibly sharp and fully capable of taking on the role. But being seen as capable is only part of the consideration for House leadership. Gowdy would leapfrog over several more veteran members of the committee if he took the gavel, a move sure to draw the ire of those ahead of him in line.

Last Modified: May 18, 2017, 7:56 pm

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