Another House Republican announces retirement, the 5th in 2 weeks

Another Republican member of the House has announced he will not run for reelection in 2020, becoming the fifth GOP lawmaker to announce their departure over the past two weeks. 

Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas confirmed reports about his retirement on Wednesday, citing his desire to spend more time with family as one reason for his decision. 

“It has been the absolute worst secret kept in America today but I am going to announce that I am not going to run for reelection in 2020,” Conaway said at a press conference in Midland, Texas, with his wife Suzanne by his side. “While serving in Congress, I’ve asked Suzanne and our family to make innumerable sacrifices. They’ve done that willingly but there’s a time where those necessary sacrifices, I simply can’t ask them to continue to do that.”

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His intention to retire was first reported by Politico on Tuesday.

Rep. Mike Conaway speaks to the media after attending a meeting with House GOP members on Capitol Hill on January 30, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Conaway, who has served in Congress for 15 years, said a highlight of his tenure was serving as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee during the end stages of its investigation into Russian election interference. He took over after the former chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, stepped down over an ethics probe, and oversaw the investigation until its conclusion in April 2018.

His announcement follows that of fellow Texas Rep. Pete Olson, who announced his plans to retire last week. GOP Reps. Rob Bishop of Utah, Paul Mitchell of Michigan and Martha Roby of Alabama have also said they will give up their seats over the past two weeks.

At his press conference, Conaway downplayed the spate of retirements, saying he “can’t speak for other folks who decide on their terms that they may decide to do something different.”

“Remember that old TV series, ‘Naked City?’ There’s 8 million stories in the Naked City, this is one of them? There are 435 members of Congress — this is just one of them, one story,” he said. “There may be some common threads, but each and every one of us has a different path.”

Before the 2018 election, 23 Republicans and 10 Democrats in the House retired. However, at this point in 2017, the last off year, only four of those Republicans had announced their intentions to step down. So far this year, seven Republicans and one Democrat have said they won’t seek reelection.

Conaway said he initially made the decision to retire last year but wanted more time to consider the move. When asked about the timing of his announcement, he pointed to the Texas primaries this upcoming March, saying he wanted to give time for someone else to “raise their hand and compete for this job.”

He was elected eight times to serve his district in west-central Texas and won reelection in 2018 by a landslide, garnering more than 80 percent of the vote. Texas Republican Party Chairman James Dickey said he very much appreciated Conaway’s service and is confident the seat will remain red.

“In Texas, our bench strength is phenomenal. And we are very confident that excellent people will step up to service in each of these districts,” he said.

A GOP strategist familiar with the party’s 2020 gameplan told CBS News the early timing of the announcements does make it easier to recruit candidates who can retain those seats. Dickey echoed this thought and said this point in the election cycle is a good time for current lawmakers to make a decision about their future plans.

“It’s during the congressional break. It’s not during the middle of the election year. There’s time before the deadline to file, for people to file to run. It gives anybody who does want to think and pray and talk it over with their family and potential supporters, it gives them time to do all that before the filing period opens,” Dickey told CBS News.

The GOP strategist also pointed to term limits of six years for Republican committee chairmen and ranking members in the House. Conaway’s role as ranking member of the House Committee on Agriculture is set to expire after 2020.

“This is an inevitable reality of having these term limits in place. And it’s a feature, not a bug. We lose great members at the end of their career but we retain folks to take over and fill in those positions,” the strategist said.

Conaway called being in the minority a “frustrating experience” and said “anybody worth their salt would confess that the partisanship has become too intense.”

“It’s gotten to be a lot more important about the jersey than the issue that we’ve got at hand,” he said at the press conference Wednesday.

He told CBS News he loves the job but all the stars have aligned for this decision, with his leadership position ending and his desire for more family time.

“It’s been an incredible chapter, a wonderful chapter, but you got an end point. And so I’m at peace with the decision,” he said in a phone call. “I’m an emotional wreck over the last two days, and I’m gonna be able to say it without tearing up, so I’m making progress.”

Olivia Gazis contributed reporting.

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