Kansas Republican Rep. Steve Watkins is giving up his committee assignments after initially declining to do so after facing felony charges in his home state.
Watkins is facing charges for allegedly committing voter fraud in a 2019 Topeka election, including listing a UPS store address on his voter registration form. Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced the charges Tuesday.
House GOP Conference rules say that any member “indicted for a felony for which a sentence of two or more years imprisonment may be imposed, shall submit his or her resignation from any such committees to the House promptly.”
CQ Roll Call reached out to Watkins’ spokesman Dylan Jones Wednesday to inquire if the congressman had stepped down from his committees.
“He has not and does not plan to do so,” Jones said Wednesday.
Two days later Watkins reversed course and resigned his seats on the Foreign Affairs, Veterans’ Affairs and Education and Labor committees.
“Throughout my entire career, I have put service above myself, and this instance is no different. That’s why I’ve chosen to temporarily and voluntarily step aside from my committees, allow the committees to continue their critical work, and fight these bogus charges,” Watkins said in a statement.
Jones did not respond to an inquiry about what had changed since Wednesday when he said Watkins did not plan to resign from his committees.
The Republican Steering Committee, which has jurisdiction over committee assignments, could have voted to strip Watkins of his committee assignments had he not stepped down voluntarily.
Someone in GOP leadership might have warned Watkins of that. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked about the matter on a press call Friday, he said had spoken with Watkins but declined to say whether he encouraged him to give up his committee assignments.
“I talked to Steve Watkins. I know there is a serious charge and it’s a personal matter,” McCarthy said. “Steve has put out a statement on it. I accept his decision to step aside from his committees. That was his decision and timing.”
The California Republican said he’s contributed to Watkins’ reelection campaign and he is still supporting him ahead of the Aug. 4 Kansas primary in which two Republicans are challenging him for his 2nd District seat.
“I haven’t changed my position in support of him,”McCarthy said.
The GOP Conference rule allows for such members to be reinstated to committees if they’re acquitted or the charges are dismissed or reduced to less than a felony.
Watkins said in his statement that he looks forward “to exposing the corruption and collusion behind this blatant political prosecution and holding those responsible accountable.”