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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Patrick McHenry, former interim speaker, will leave Congress

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., one of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s key negotiators, told reporters Thursday “thorny issues” still need to be resolved, chief among them spending caps.  (New York Times)
By Annie Karni New York Times

WASHINGTON — Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who made history as the first interim speaker of the House after Republicans ousted their own speaker and struggled for weeks to agree on a successor, said Tuesday that he would leave Congress at the end of his term.

The announcement by McHenry, the chair of the Financial Services Committee, added him to the growing ranks of lawmakers who have announced that they will depart the House and the Senate, many of them citing the historic dysfunction of Capitol Hill.

“This is not a decision I come to lightly,” McHenry said in a statement. “But I believe there is a season for everything and — for me — this season has come to an end.”

The bow-tied and bespectacled McHenry, 48, arrived in Congress as an unruly bomb thrower in 2005 and has matured into one of the more sober-minded leaders in a Republican conference whose actions are more often driven by the attention seekers. He was named speaker pro tempore after Republicans deposed Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is McHenry’s close ally.

McCarthy is also expected to announce in the coming days that he will not seek reelection, and many of his colleagues do not expect him to finish out his term after he has discovered the life of a rank-and-file member to be a painful existence.

McCarthy’s brutal ouster prompted the House’s first invocation of a post-9/11 crisis succession plan that requires the speaker to secretly designate an interim stand-in should the post become unexpectedly vacant. Those plans never envisioned that the crisis that would lead to a vacancy would be that members of the party controlling the House would choose to overthrow their own speaker.

As Republicans struggled for three weeks to coalesce around any candidate to replace McCarthy and the House remained paralyzed, McHenry was under intense pressure to take on more power and interpret his role more broadly.

But he steadfastly refused, even as members asked him to bring to the floor an uncontroversial resolution in support of Israel after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in which about 1,200 people were killed and hundreds taken hostage. And when Republicans floated a plan to hold a formal vote to allow McHenry to preside over legislative business, he let it be known he was against it.

McHenry argued that interpreting his role as anything more than simply convening the House to take a vote for a new speaker would only create more incentive for the Republican feuding to drag on and even grow worse. He made it clear that he harbored no ambition of becoming the speaker himself and in fact was actively hostile to the idea.

McHenry had chosen not to run for any leadership position during this Congress, in part because he believed that the most effective way to wield power in the House was to not allow anyone to have leverage over him. But McCarthy had a way of roping him back in.

During McCarthy’s tenure as speaker, he cut out the official leadership structure, whose members he distrusted, and relied heavily on McHenry as his hand-picked adviser to help handle debt ceiling negotiations with the White House and avert a government shutdown.

McHenry’s departure from a seat in a solidly Republican district was not expected to have much impact on the race for control of the House, where his successor was all but certain to be another Republican.

His decision not to seek reelection may have had as much to do with his own future prospects in the House as it did with overall dysfunction. McHenry will be term-limited out of his chairmanship at the end of next year.

In announcing his decision not to seek another term, McHenry tried to play down any narrative that the spate of retirements and exits was due to the House becoming ungovernable.

“There has been a great deal of hand-wringing and ink spilled about the future of this institution because some — like me — have decided to leave,” he said. “Those concerns are exaggerated. I’ve seen a lot of change over 20 years. I truly feel this institution is on the verge of the next great turn.”

He added, “Evolutions are often lumpy and disjointed but at each stage, new leaders emerge. There are many smart and capable members who remain, and others are on their way. I’m confident the House is in good hands.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.