Former Rep. Paul Mitchell, Trump critic who left GOP over election lie, dies at 64

Colleagues remember him as a conservative willing to work across the aisle

Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., is seen outside a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on December 19, 2017.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., is seen outside a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on December 19, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 16, 2021 at 1:46pm

Former Michigan Rep. Paul Mitchell, who left the GOP to become an independent in protest of his party’s behavior in the days after the 2020 election, has died of cancer. 

Mitchell announced in June he had been diagnosed with an advanced stage of renal cancer and would undergo aggressive treatment. His wife, Sherry, announced his death Monday in a statement provided to CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“Paul was an American. He was the embodiment of what we can be if we choose to love and fight for what matters,” the statement said.

No public funeral has been scheduled, and the statement requested those who want to honor Mitchell “please give someone your time in a meaningful way” or donate to foster care charities, since “he cared deeply that all children were loved.”

Mitchell was first elected in 2016 and chose not to run again in 2020. The 64-year-old said he was leaving to spend more time with his son who has special needs. He had been voting by proxy in the final days of his term during the pandemic, saying that he and his wife suffer from severe asthma.

When the plainspoken, business-minded political newcomer arrived in Congress, he was seen as a rising star by some. But he tangled with then-President Donald Trump several times, publicly rebuking him for tweets telling four Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to where they came from and for saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of the white supremacist riots in Charlottesville, Va. 

Despite a conservative record, he had a willingness to work across the aisle to get legislation passed. 

After his cancer diagnosis and an emergency operation to remove a blood clot and mass that had moved to his heart, some lawmakers took to the House floor in June to celebrate him. The group sent well wishes and commended Mitchell’s honesty and willingness to work with those across the political spectrum who shared his policy goals.

Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin said the “funny, charming and humble servant leader” who charted his own course in the House was deeply missed. She lauded Mitchell for reaching across the aisle to advocate for students, investment in innovation and economic development. 

“These days, some might call that behavior an independent, being a maverick, but to us, that was just Paul,” she said of her 10th District colleague who represented most of Michigan’s “Thumb” region.

Mitchell grew up in Waterford Township as the oldest of six siblings and often invoked the American dream as part of his professional career path. 

“I was the first kid in my extended family to go to college, never mind graduate from college,” he said. “I worked my way through, to going to CEO and [a] significant ownership position at a fair-sized company. I’m not sure that’s achievable for many kids these days.”

Mitchell was at work on a master’s degree when he took a job at Chrysler. He transferred to Ross Education, a professional health care training network, in 1985. He was a manager in workforce training and rose to CEO, holding the job for six years until retiring in 2011.

He was also chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Michigan, a state branch of the faith mobilization group.

Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, a moderate Republican known for crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats, celebrated Mitchell in a tweet, calling him “a trooper to the very end” and “a valuable member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.” 

“He had grown very tired of the gridlock in Washington … and always wanted to make a difference and that is what he did. Paul left Congress seeking more quality time with his family and I am so sad for all of them to see his life cut short,” Upton said. 

Mitchell announced he would not seek reelection for a third term in July 2019. In spite of his conservative record, he cited his dislike of the partisan logjam that prevented Congress from achieving goals.

“My objective was to stay 10 years,” Mitchell said. “But I came to the determination I was not doing the things I came here to do.”

But the Michigander, whose Twitter profile described him as an “opinionated defender of our Constitution and nation,” was still full of personality in his final days.

The last photo posted to his Twitter account, on Aug. 7, depicted him in bed with a nasal cannula, holding a mug saying “out of office” with a brief caption — “You need to keep a sense of humor about some things.”

Paul V. Fontelo contributed to this report.