South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy announced Wednesday he will not be running for re-election and intends to leave politics after this term is over.
The Republican lawmaker, first elected to the 4th District in 2010, chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“I will not be filing for re-election to Congress nor seeking any other political or elected office; instead I will be returning to the justice system,” Gowdy said in a statement.
“Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress, and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system. As I look back on my career, it is the jobs that both seek and reward fairness that are most rewarding,” he added.
Watch: The Language of Congress: What’s the Difference Between Resigning and Retiring?
Gowdy’s statement came after news broke late Wednesday morning of the accident involving a train carrying GOP members to the party’s annual retreat in West Virginia. Gowdy was not on the train and wasn’t planning to attend the retreat. The release of his retirement statement was scheduled before the accident.
“There is no perfect time to make this announcement, but with filing opening in six weeks, it is important to give the women and men in South Carolina who might be interested in serving ample time to reflect on the decision,” Gowdy said.
Gowdy took over the chairmanship of the Oversight panel last June, following the retirement of Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz. He gained notoriety as the head of the select committee that investigated the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, and Hillary Clinton’s response to the incident as secretary of State.
The congressman’s interest in moving to the judiciary isn’t unexpected. But it’s relatively rare for a member of the legislative branch to become a federal judge — that hasn’t happened in more than 30 years.
The current and upcoming judicial vacancies on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are for seats generally based in South Carolina. Dennis Shedd, who took senior status effective Tuesday, was a senior member of the staff of former South Carolina GOP Sen. Strom Thurmond, including as staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Gowdy is the ninth Republican committee chairman to announce he won’t be seeking re-election in November and the second this week, after New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the Appropriations chairman, announced Monday he wouldn’t seek a 13th term.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 4th District race Solid Republican. President Donald Trump carried the district by 26 points in 2016, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.
GOP operatives mentioned a handful of potential candidates for Gowdy’s seat. They include state Reps. Dan Hamilton and Garry Smith, businesswoman and former state GOP chairwoman Karen Floyd and Spartanburg County GOP chairman Josh Kimbrell, who posted on Facebook after Gowdy’s announcement that he was exploring a bid for Congress.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.