U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a power in the “other” Washington, announced Thursday that she will retire at the end of her tenth term in Congress. She is leaving at the top of her game, currently chairing the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“It’s been the honor and privilege of my life to represent the people of Eastern Washington in Congress: They inspire me every day,” CMR, 54, said in a statement. “They are part of the strength and soul of America – the greatest experiment in self-governance the world has ever known.”
She follows two other top-ranking Republicans who are not seeking reelection, House Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas) and House Financial Services Chair Patrick McHenry (R-North Carolina). The GOP has a tenuous hold on the House, its narrow majority having experienced fierce infighting. Far-right members deposed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last fall. The GOP may well lose control of Congress’ lower chamber in the November election.
McMorris Rodgers is a conservative who has represented a conservative region of the Evergreen State. She grew up in Kettle Falls, attended then-unaccredited Pensacola Christian College in Florida, worked in her family’s orchard and fruit stand, and joined the state legislature by appointment at the age of 25. In Olympia, she became a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. She voted against adding “sexual orientation” to Washington’s anti-discrimination law.
In Congress, CMR has repeatedly called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, signature achievement of the Obama Administration. She has voted to make deep cuts in federal food assistance despite representing several of the state’s poorest counties. She has described TikTok as “an immediate threat from the Chinese Communist Party.” She backed President Trump’s decision to take the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. She was co-chair of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
As chair of Energy and Commerce, she championed a sweeping bill entitled the Lower Energy Costs Act. Passed on a party-line vote but dead on arrival in the Senate, the legislation directs the U.S. Department of Interior to sell new leases to drill on federal lands and in federal waters. It also eliminates the Biden Administration’s methane-reduction program that charges polluters for releasing the greenhouse gas.
Although coming from a district stricken by wildfires and heat waves, McMorris Rodgers has championed fossil fuel production. Upon becoming committee chair last year, she said: “The introduction of coal, oil, and natural gas over the last several centuries has improved productivity, economic development, and peoples’ standard of living across the world.”
While serving as House Minority Leader in the Washington Legislature, McMorris Rodgers caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton. She won a competitive primary in 2004 and began a quick rise in Congress, joining the GOP leadership as Republican Conference Chair. She gained national attention when picked to deliver Republicans’ response to President Obama’s 2014 State-of-the-Union speech.
Two years later, CMR was a finalist to become Secretary of the Interior in the Trump cabinet. She didn’t get the job but became a champion of the Trump Administration’s 2017 tax cut, which delivered the bulk of its benefits to the country’s richest citizens. McMorris Rodgers faced her one tough reelection race in 2018: She was booed at a Martin Luther King Day observance in Spokane and faced challenger Lisa Brown, a former State Senate Majority Leader. CMR won, even as Republicans were losing control of the House. (Brown was recently elected mayor of Spokane.)
McMorris Rodgers has stirred controversy at times. She has taken up the cause of civility in politics, preaching that House members should get along, while at the same time practicing right-wing partisanship. She has been an outspoken abortion opponent, for years speaking at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. She applauded the Supremes’ Hobbs decision that overturned Roe, allowing states once more to outlaw abortion.
During one Spokane town hall meeting, CMR said Planned Parenthood should be investigated and hinted that the organization had been selling fetal tissue for profit. “We need to better understand what they’re doing,” she told constituents. “From what I’ve seen, there are illegal activities in which they are involved.”
Of her energy bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer observed: “It’s not difficult to see that the Republican proposal is nothing more than a wish list for Big Oil masquerading as an energy package.” President Biden described it as “a thinly veiled license to pollute” and promised a veto if the bill ever reaches his desk.
CMR made no mention of her future plans, nor reasons for her retirement other than to say it came after “prayers and reflection.” She did promise to serve her constituents “in new ways.” The announcement came as a surprise, since McMorris Rodgers was tapped to nominate Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson to become Speaker of the House.
Washington’s 5th District is solidly Republican territory, and has been for 30 years since the 1994 defeat of House Speaker Tom Foley, last Democrat to hold the seat. McMorris Rodgers is the second member of Washington’s delegation to be leaving Congress. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., is also departing the House.