Congressional resignations in the middle of a term are unusual, which makes reports like these from The Salt Lake Tribune stand out.
Rep. Chris Stewart is resigning from Congress but did not specify when his resignation would be effective. Stewart acknowledged he was leaving the U.S. House seat he has held since 2012 on Wednesday after The Salt Lake Tribune first reported he was planning on stepping down.
“I can say with pride that I have been an effective leader for my beloved home state, and I’m honored to have played an important role in guiding our nation through some troubled times,” the outgoing Utah Republican said in a statement. “But my wife’s health concerns have made it necessary that I retire from Congress after an orderly transition can be ensured.”
The congressman hasn’t gone into any details publicly about his wife’s condition, though assuming the official explanation for his resignation is genuine, this appears to be a private matter involving a private citizen.
This is the second resignation of the current Congress, following a related announcement from Democratic Rep. David Cicilline, whose last day on Capitol Hill is tomorrow. The Rhode Island congressman is poised to become the new president and CEO of a Providence-based charitable foundation.
The difference, of course, is that Stewart is a member of the small Republican majority conference, which is poised to get a little smaller.
Indeed, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is no doubt sorry to see the Utahan go, not just because of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his resignation, but also because Stewart is a key conservative figure in the House — in addition to the Appropriations and Intelligence committees, he’s part of the conspiratorial “weaponization” panel — which already features a GOP majority with very little wiggle room.
As of today, the House Republican conference has 222 members, which means on any given vote, GOP leaders can lose no more than four of their own members. Once Stewart departs, that number will drop to three.
And if scandals were to force Rep. George Santos of New York to resign, it’d shrink to just two.
In theory, it might seem possible for Stewart to be replaced fairly quickly, but Deidre Henderson, Utah’s Republican lieutenant governor, explained the process in a Twitter thread last night, and it appears that the congressman’s seat is likely to remain vacant until next year.
Which, again, is not what McCarthy and his GOP leadership team want to hear.
Complicating matters further, the Salt Lake Tribune also reported this week on local chatter about Stewart having eyed a Republican primary race next year against incumbent Sen. Mitt Romney. If the congressman is stepping down to focus on a family health matter, it stands to reason he won’t be gearing up for a statewide candidacy.
All of which is to say, Stewart might not be immediately recognized by a national audience, but as congressional resignations go, his departure is a significant one.