The Slatest

Embattled GOP Congressman Says He’ll Retire After All

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 4: (L to R) Rep. Tom Garrett Jr. (R-VA) shakes hands with House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on his way to the House floor on Capitol Hill, December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. The House voted to formally send their tax reform bill to a joint conference committee with the Senate, where they will try to merge the two bills. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett with Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett will not run for re-election after all. The freshman Republican announced Monday that he will instead retire at the end of this term to deal with his alcoholism and focus on his family. The decision came after a week of swirling speculation about Garrett’s political future—a stretch that included the abrupt dismissal of his chief of staff, followed by a rambling news conference at which Garrett insisted he was running, and subsequent accusations that he and his wife used his congressional staff to run personal errands and do household chores for them.

In a video posted on Monday evening, Garrett said those reports were untrue, but that he would not seek re-election in order to focus on his fight against alcohol addiction. “The tragedy is that any person—Republican, Democrat or independent—who’s known me for any period of time and has any integrity knows two things: I am a good man and I am an alcoholic,” a clearly emotional Garrett said in a recorded video statement. “This is the hardest statement that I have ever publicly made by far. It’s also the truth.”

Garrett, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who represents Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, is at least the 48th House Republican to either quit Congress or announce their coming retirement this year. Garrett had already been officially nominated by Virginia Republicans to seek another term, and a group of 30 or so local officials will now be tasked with finding a replacement for the general election. Their current working list reportedly includes a smattering of state lawmakers as well a pair of businessmen who sought the GOP nomination two years ago.

Democrats were optimistic about capturing Garrett’s seat even before his announcement. The conservative-leaning district is considered competitive by nonpartisan handicappers like the Cook Political Report, and the Democratic nominee, Leslie Cockburn, a journalist and author, out-raised Garrett considerably—about $715,000 to $432,000, as of last count.

Garrett won by 16 points in 2016, but Republicans grew increasingly concerned about his ability to hold the seat, after he abruptly lost his chief of staff last Tuesday. The congressman then gave a rambling press conference on Thursday at which he declared there was “no way in heck” he wouldn’t run for, and win, another term this November. Then on Friday, a Politico report citing four former congressional aides described a toxic work environment in Garrett’s office.

According to the report, Garrett and his wife had staffers perform personal chores for them ranging from shuttling their children several hours to and from his district, to cleaning up after the couple’s dog when it defecated on the floor of his congressional office. It is against federal law and House ethics rules to use congressional staff for anything other than official duties. In his video Monday, Garrett called those allegations “a series of half-truths and whole lies.”