The Slatest

Is Trey Gowdy on His Way Up or on His Way Out?

South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, pictured here at a March press conference, was subjected to rumors that he might retire after his fourth term ends in 2016.

Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images

On Tuesday, South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy was being discussed as a candidate for House majority leader. On Wednesday, his future in Congress was in doubt after a fellow GOP congressman told C-SPAN that Gowdy was retiring after his fourth term ended in 2016.

A C-SPAN host asked Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana about the reluctance of some members to seek leadership positions in the House after the sudden resignation last week of Speaker John Boehner and cited Gowdy specifically.

“Trey wants to go back to South Carolina, and God bless him for that,” said Fleming, who went on to talk about the frustration some in Congress feel living in Washington and paying for two residences. “At the end of his term, yes. He plans to go back home. He wants to finish his work on the Benghazi, Libya, special committee. But he loves South Carolina, and he loves his family. He wants to go back and spend the rest of his life there.”

Gowdy spokeswoman Amanda Duvall quickly responded, stating that Gowdy was not retiring and “has not made any announcement about 2016.” Roll Call cited an anonymous GOP representative who said, “Fleming likely misconstrued a comment Gowdy made,” but the speculation was out.  

As the Washington Post noted Tuesday afternoon, it’s been a whirlwind week for Gowdy. Colleagues and allies reportedly want him to run for House majority leader, the No. 2 position behind the speaker.

According to Politico, one of those colleagues was the outgoing speaker himself. Boehner saw Gowdy’s popularity with the more conservative elements of the party to be a strong complement to the more moderate Kevin McCarthy, the leading candidate for the speakership”

Boehner (R-Ohio) “has always been a fan of Trey’s and thinks he’s done a tremendous job as chairman of the Benghazi select committee and he thinks he would do the same thing if he had gotten to the leader race,” said one Boehner confidant with knowledge of the meeting.

But Gowdy rebuffed those efforts—even Boehner’s—because taking a leadership position would involve giving up his work on the Benghazi investigation.

As chairman of the House select committee on Benghazi, Gowdy has been the leading critic of the administration’s handling of the 2012 terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.

And indeed it would be a bit of unfortunate timing for Gowdy were he to vacate his chairmanship of the Benghazi committee at this precise moment. Hillary Clinton is scheduled to testify before the committee in October. Clinton testified before Congress on the Benghazi attack in 2013, but that was before it was revealed that Clinton was using a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

“Are we ever going to have a guarantee that we have everything that is relevant so we could answer the question that the House asked us to answer?” Gowdy said in an interview with the Washington Examiner in September. “It is undeniable that this email arrangement complicates our ability to do that.  … [I]t’s been quite a slog for us in terms of being able to do the jobs we were asked to do.”

For now, then, we are left to wonder. It does seem unlikely that Gowdy would announce his retirement weeks before what will be his most high-profile moment in Congress. But Fleming’s statement was very matter-of-fact. If he is on his way out, that could bode ill for House Republicans. Ideological in-fighting between moderates and conservatives led to Boehner’s fall, and Gowdy was someone who could bridge those differences, as his supporters mentioned when pushing him to run. The Hill shared an email form Utah’s Jason Chaffetz:

“Trey Gowdy is the best person to unite our conference and articulate the Republican message,” Chaffetz wrote in an email to The Hill Tuesday morning. “He is widely trusted and beloved in our conference.”