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Texas Republican resigns, increases historic resignation count

When he hoped few would notice, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) resigned from Congress. For now, however, he still owes us $84,000.
Blake Farenthold
House subcommittee of Federal Workforce,US Postal Service and the Census Chairman Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, holds up a letter about sequestration...

It's not unusual for some of the most interesting political stories to come to light late on a Friday afternoon, when embarrassed politicians hope developments will get less attention. Take the latest congressional resignation, for example.

Rep. Blake Farenthold announced Friday that he has resigned from Congress, months after details surfaced about his use of $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment claim lodged by a former employee. [...]It's unclear what suddenly prompted him to leave Washington. His official Twitter account appeared to have been deleted as of Friday afternoon.

The Texas Republican was already slated to retire at the end of this Congress; his resignation announcement, effective immediately, wrapped up his career seven months early.

Regular readers may recall the key Farenthold controversy, which first came to public light about four years ago. The Texas Republican’s former communications director, Lauren Greene, accused Farenthold and his chief of staff of creating a hostile work environment, gauging her interest in a sexual relationship. In her court filing, Greene alleged that Farenthold told another staffer that he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her.

The case was settled out of court, but the incident was politically unique: NBC News reported that the $84,000 settlement came by way of the Office of Compliance, the first such taxpayer-funded settlement to be made public.

Farenthold, perhaps best known for his choice in pajamas, said he intends to pay Americans back for the cost of the settlement. 

As of Friday, however, Farenthold still owed us $84,000. Following the resignation announcement, House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) office said the Texan "reiterated his commitment" to pay taxpayers back as he exited Congress, but it's been about six months since Farenthold first made his promise, and it's hard not to wonder whether we'll ever see that money.

But while we wait for Farenhold to find his elusive checkbook, it's also worth pausing to put his Friday news dump in some historical perspective: doesn't it seem as if there's been an enormous number of resignations in this Congress?

At last count, one member has stepped down for health reasons (Mississippi's Thad Cochran), one member resigned to seek a statewide office (California's Xavier Becerra), four members gave up their seats to serve in the Trump administration (Georgia's Tom Price, South Carolina's Mick Mulvaney, Kansas' Mike Pompeo, and Montana's Ryan Zinke), five resigned under a cloud of scandal (Arizona's Trent Franks, Michigan's John Conyers, Pennsylvania's Tim Murphy, Minnesota's Al Franken, and Texas' Blake Farenthold), and two stepped down because they didn't feel like being in Congress anymore (Ohio's Pat Tiberi and Utah's Jason Chaffetz).

A recent FiveThirtyEight analysis noted, "If that feels like a lot, that’s because it is; it’s the most people who have resigned from Congress through this point in the session in at least 117 years."

Put it this way: when the number of congressional resignations easily trumps the number of major congressional legislative accomplishments, all is not well on Capitol Hill.