House Oversight Chair Chaffetz Won’t Seek Re-Election in 2018

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By Louis C. LaBrecque and Hassan Kanu

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee since January 2015, isn’t planning to run for re-election in 2018.

“For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives,” he wrote in an April 19 posting on Facebook. “I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins.”

Chaffetz’s committee is the first stop for House legislation related to federal employee pay and benefits issues. When chairmanship of the committee was last open in the fall of 2014, those who expressed interest in the position, in addition to Chaffetz, included Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), John L. Mica (R-Fla.) and Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio).

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations, also may be interested in the top spot on the full committee. No decision on the committee’s next chairman will be made by Republicans until after the mid-term elections in November 2018.

If Democrats regain control of the House in the mid-term elections, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the committee, likely would lead the panel, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), the subcommittee’s top Democrat, told Bloomberg BNA.

Asked for his assessment of Chaffetz’s tenure, Connolly called it “a mixed bag.”

Connolly gave Chaffetz “high marks” for his “leadership on postal reform and protecting postal workers.” Chaffetz in January introduced the Postal Reform Act (H.R. 756), which was reported by the committee to the House floor in a March 16 voice vote. Postal unions, which had opposed a number of earlier postal overhaul bills, supported the measure as a way to return the U.S. Postal Service to financial health.

On the other hand, Connolly said, Chaffetz “had this kind of crazy resolution we looked at a few weeks ago that would have encouraged moving the federal government outside of Washington.”

Connolly was referring to H.Res. 38, which stipulates that “it is no longer necessary for all federal agencies to be located in the District of Columbia.” The resolution from Chaffetz, which is nonbinding, was approved by the committee last month in a 21-19 roll call vote.

Is Run for Governor Next?

Chaffetz in the Facebook posting said he “may run again for public office, but not in 2018.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who’s 83, recently announced that he’s planning to run for re-election in 2018. There had been some speculation that Chaffetz was interested in running for the Senate.

Another possible future perch for Chaffetz—governor of Utah—will open up in 2020. Current state Gov. Gary Herbert (R) announced after winning a four-year term in 2016 that he won’t seek re-election in 2020.

Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University, told Bloomberg BNA April 19 that he was surprised by Chaffetz’s announcement. But leaving the House may improve Chaffetz’s chances if he decides to run for governor, Karpowitz said.

“He has talked openly about running for governor, so a difficult election in 2018—or even a loss or perhaps continued bad press that he’s been getting back in D.C.—would have made a run for governor in 2020 more challenging,” Karpowitz said.

Connolly said Chaffetz didn’t talk about political pressures or a possible run to be Utah’s next governor during a recent trip the two House members took to Korea.

“He sleeps in his office, Utah’s a long commute, he’s separated from his family,” Connolly said of Chaffetz. “I think over time that’s been getting to him. It certainly seemed that way last week; he expressed real frustration about competing demands and a punishing schedule.”

House Oversight Called `Thankless Gig’

Chaffetz as chairman of the House committee has been criticized by Democrats for what some have described as his reluctance to provide appropriate oversight of President Donald Trump. The committee under Chaffetz has continued to investigate Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president in 2016, for her use of a private server and email address and her response to an attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, during her time as secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

Liam Donovan, director of legislative and political affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, said in an April 19 tweet that serving as chairman of the House committee is “not quite the prize it looked to be back in 2014, with the opportunity to be inquisitor to HRC.” He called the job a “thankless gig in the DJT era,” using acronyms for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump.

Connolly said Chaffetz has dropped the ball on oversight of the new president.

“When Obama was in the White House and Hillary was a candidate, he threatened vigorous oversight if she got elected,” Connolly told Bloomberg BNA. “Once Trump got elected, not so much, no need to go there, there’s nothing to see. I think that’s a real negative mark on his chairmanship.”

Aides for Chaffetz didn’t respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bna.com; Hassan Kanu at hkanu@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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