SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Rep. John Katko, a respected Republican moderate whose congressional career seemed on the ascent, announced his retirement Friday, the third of the 10 House GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach President Donald Trump last January to say they won't seek reelection.
The upstate New Yorker, 59, was in line to become chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee if, as seems likely, Republicans win control of the chamber in November's elections. Lawmakers seldom step aside with such opportunities looming.
But his decision comes as Trump has remained a dominant force in the GOP, retaining the fealty of many lawmakers and threatening to use party primaries to depose those who cross him.
Now serving his fourth House term, Katko released a statement saying it was time to “enjoy my family and life in a fuller and more present way." He said his parents and his wife's parents had all died in the past three years, adding, “To say that those gut-wrenching times provided life-changing perspective for me is putting it mildly."
While his statement made no reference to Trump, he also said, “My conscience, principles, and commitment to do what’s right have guided every decision I’ve made as a Member of Congress, and they guide my decision today.”
There was sharp GOP backlash against all 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in inciting supporters who violently stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as lawmakers were certifying his presidential reelection defeat.
Katko said at the time that he was backing impeachment because failing to hold Trump responsible for encouraging the attack would be “a direct threat to the future of our democracy."
Further defying the former president, Katko wrote compromise legislation last May with Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., to create a 10-member bipartisan commission to investigate that attack.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had enlisted Katko to negotiate that deal with Democrats. But McCarthy — who initially said Trump “bears responsibility" for the attack, only to resume being a staunch Trump ally — abruptly came out against Katko's agreement. He said the commission would give Democrats too much power.
Katko stood by the measure anyway. “This is about facts — it’s not partisan politics,” said the former federal prosecutor as the House debated the legislation. He said “the American people and the Capitol Police deserve answers, and action as soon as possible to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
The House approved the bill 252-175, with the support of 35 Republicans. The measure died in the Senate, where it was blocked by Republicans.
Katko also drew the ire of Trump and conservatives by being among 13 House Republicans to vote for President Joe Biden's $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which became law in November.
Katko became the 13th House Republican to announce he's not seeking reelection in 2022. So far 26 House Democrats have said they are retiring after this year. That disparity, along with Biden's diminished popularity in polling, are among several indicators that Democrats face an uphill fight to retain their majority in the chamber.
“Great news, another one bites the dust. Katko, from Upstate New York, is gone!” Trump said Friday in a written statement.
The former president sent a handwritten note in June to the chairman of the Conservative Party in Onondaga County, New York, saying: “Katko will never win again. He is bad news.” Trump added, “Will help with campaign — find a great candidate.”
Reps. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who backed Trump's 2021 impeachment, have also decided against remaining in the House. Others among the 10 are facing primaries from Trump-backed foes.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Trump's most outspoken GOP critic, was deposed from her post as No. 3 House Republican leader and has engaged in nearly nonstop verbal warfare with him. She and Kinzinger are the only two Republicans on a special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection formed after the commission bill died.
Katko was reelected in 2020 with 53% of the vote in a district centered around Syracuse, New York, which Biden won narrowly over Trump. That made Katko one of a small handful of House Republicans representing Biden-won districts.
His departure could help Democrats as they scramble to try protecting their slender House majority. They will lose control of the chamber if they surrender more than five seats.
New York will lose one House seat to reflect the 2020 Census and is currently redrawing its district lines, which remain uncertain. Under one proposal by Democrats, Katko’s district would be merged with another represented by GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney.
That would have pitted the two incumbents against each other in a party primary. Trump endorsed Tenney for reelection last summer, well before Katko announced his retirement.
Trump was acquitted by the Senate in both of his impeachment trials. The first, in 2020, was over charges he pressured Ukraine to provide information to hurt his Democratic opponents.
Katko announced Monday that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing mild symptoms. He said he was fully vaccinated and had received a booster.
Villeneuve reported from Albany, New York.