WASHINGTON — Republicans are reeling from Texas Rep. Will Hurd’s decision to retire — and worried he won’t be the last, as GOP House members frustrated with their newfound minority status decide to call it quits.
Hurd, the only black GOP member of the House and one of the few moderates left who’s been willing to take on President Trump, announced Thursday night that he was done with the House.
The announcement sent shockwaves through a conference already staggering from a slew of other recent retirements, including two of the 13 remaining female GOP members.
The House Republican conference is getting even whiter and more male-dominated, thinner in the suburbs — and even further from retaking the majority. Hurd is the ninth Republican who’s decided to retire, the sixth in just the last two weeks, the third Texan after Reps. Pete Olson and Mike Conaway, and one of four members in potentially competitive districts.
Only two Democrats have decided to retire so far.
“This is devastating news for House Republicans,” said former Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a close ally of Hurd’s and fellow moderate who lost a tough election battle last year.
Heading for the exits
Hurd is unlikely to be the last Republican to throw in the towel — and maybe not even the last Texan: Rep. Michael McCaul barely hung on in a fast-diversifying district in 2018, and a source who’s talked to him recently says he’s seriously considering retirement, a decision that would be another blow to Republicans. Rep. Kenny Marchant is also mulling retirement after nearly losing last year in a district that’s trending away from the GOP.
Sources tell VICE News that Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), and Don Young (R-Alaska) are all also considering retirement as well.
All of those members are former chairmen who are chafing at being in the minority, and most of them are term-limited out from becoming chairmen again by House GOP rules. Walden, Rogers and Sensenbrenner are all from fairly safe Republican seats. But if Chabot and Upton leave, their GOP-leaning suburban districts could be difficult to hold and give Republican leaders more seats to worry about.
“We are on a path to have one party for older white Americans and then another party for people of color.”
Hurd, a former CIA undercover officer, was widely viewed as a GOP rising star, a telegenic and serious young lawmaker and one of the few nonwhite members of their caucus — the type of Republican who could win over Hispanic voters, suburbanites and moderates and help the party grow with the future.
“We are on a path to have one party for older, white Americans and then another party for people of color and immigrants. That's not healthy for any country,” said Curbelo. “It’s a shitty time.”
Hurd was one of the only Republicans who called out Trump for his recent racist comments that four nonwhite Democratic congresswomen should leave the U.S. He led the GOP efforts to push immigration reform. He opposed Trump's wall, and worried about his coziness with Russia.
His district is one of the few left that Republicans hold with significant minority populations, and one of the last ones in their hands that President Trump lost in 2016. He’d already been facing a tough rematch against military veteran Gina Ortiz Jones, and his retirement pushed the Cook Political Report and other political handicappers to move the race into the lean-Democrat column.
“Will Hurd is a cream-of-the-crop member,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), one of Hurd’s closest friends in Congress, told VICE News Friday morning. “While he’s a loss in the short term in the Congress, I remain confident that you will be an important voice in the future. He's going to be missed by his colleagues.”
Stefanik tweeted a photo of them dancing together at her wedding after Hurd’s announcement. Stefanik is 35 and Hurd is 41 — they’re some of the only House Republicans young enough to be looking at their first marriages in an aging caucus.
Disappearing GOP moderates
Many of the more moderate, female and nonwhite House Republicans lost their seats in the 2018 Democratic wave election, and while Republicans have made noise about recruiting more women this cycle, there’s little evidence they’ll be successful at diversifying their caucus. A bitter irony: Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), who’s been tasked to lead those efforts, is another one of the nine Republicans who’s decided to retire.
“They don’t see an opportunity to come back [to the majority],” said former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis. “Being in the minority is no fun.”
August often triggers an early wave of retirements as members get home to their districts and families and get to think through whether it’s worth the constant grind. The next wave usually occurs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. There tends to be a larger rash of retirements after Congress changes hands and suddenly puts members in the minority, especially sucky for those skeptical that their party can win back control soon.
Republicans need to net 18 House seats to win back the majority. That’s not an impossible task, but it’s a difficult one since they need to pick up a number of suburban seats trending hard away from their party — and one that’s made more difficult by Hurd’s retirement.
Hurd’s decision is also a sign that Texas may not be safe for the GOP. It’s still a reach for Democrats who hope to flip the state and defeat Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), but there are a number of vulnerable House seats that could go Democrats’ way and help them lock in their majority.
“It’s in play,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas GOP strategist who ran Cornyn’s 2014 race and helped Cruz win in 2012. “It’s just a matter of time and demographic shift, and we’re having two more years of that. I don’t think Trump and Cornyn lose Texas, but I could definitely see some congressional districts going to the Democrats… and these retirements are making everybody really skittish.”
“There’s a good example of a [member in a] marginal seat saying it’s not as fun in the minority,” said former Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), a former NRCC chairman. “There’s no question that this one hurts based on the quality of the member and the difficulty of the seat.”
Cover: Rep. Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, speaks during a press conference urging action on DACA Dreamers on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in February 13, 2019. (Photo by: Alex Edelman/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)