On Wednesday, South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, the laboriously coifed chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, became the latest senior member of the House GOP to announce his retirement. Gowdy, a former prosecutor who rose to prominence as the leader of the now-disbanded House Select Committee on Benghazi, said in a statement that he intends to return to the justice system.
“Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress,” he wrote, “and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system.”
It was not a secret that Gowdy disliked Congress. In 2015, one House conservative, then-Rep. John Fleming, said in a television interview that Gowdy wasn’t going to run for reelection in 2016. Gowdy’s office wasn’t pleased with Fleming announcing Gowdy’s retirement for him, and Gowdy stayed on for another term.
Like his predecessor atop the oversight committee, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who sold out to Fox News last summer, Gowdy has likely found that leading the committee with power to subpoena the administration is far less fun when the administration is of your own party. Chaffetz had grand plans to torment the Hillary Clinton administration. When that didn’t pan out, it was time to leave and make some money. For Gowdy, the best-case scenario in this year’s midterms would have been a continuation of the same awkward affair, and the worst case would have been handing the gavel over to a Democratic chairman and spending two years running interference for the administration as the committee’s ranking member.
As for what job “in a courtroom” Gowdy might seek, it is worth noting that Trump still has not nominated a U.S. attorney for South Carolina. Or perhaps a judgeship might be more to Gowdy’s liking; the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers South Carolina, happens to have a fresh new vacancy as of yesterday.
With Gowdy out, we are now up to eight House committee chairs who will retire at the end of their term. (That’s in addition to Chaffetz, a committee chair who already retired, and Tennessee Rep. Diane Black, who left her perch atop the Budget committee to focus on her race for governor.) Some, like Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, will see their terms as chair expire in the next Congress. House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, meanwhile, could have served two more terms in one of the plum jobs on Capitol Hill, but was facing a difficult reelection in a suburban district rapidly turning blue. So while the circumstances differ, but it’s all bound by an unmistakably funereal tone.