New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen is the latest veteran Republican to announce his retirement, opening up another competitive district as the GOP braces for what could be a brutal midterm cycle.
Frelinghuysen is chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee — a perch he just took over last year. Under internal House GOP rules, he could serve up to six years in that post. His early departure from Congress signals that Frelinghuysen was likely worried about a tough re-election campaign in an already competitive district that President Trump only narrowly carried by 3,362 votes.
"I have worked in a bipartisan manner, not just in times of crisis but always, because I believe it best serves my constituents, my state and our country," Frelinghuysen said in a statement. "My father reminded me often that we are temporary stewards of the public trust. I have sincerely endeavored to earn that trust every day and I thank my constituents and my home state of New Jersey for the honor to serve and I will continue to do so to the best of my abilities through the end of my term."
Frelinghuysen had already bucked his party last month when he was one of just 12 Republicans who voted no on the GOP's tax bill, citing his opposition to caps on deduction of state and local taxes that would have harmed New Jersey residents. That led to GOP leaders reportedly considering replacing him atop the Appropriations Committee.
The 12-term Republican has also been critical of some of Trump's policies, including his proposal to ban some people from Muslim countries from coming into the U.S. But he had still largely voted in line with the president and his party, spurring protests in his district from activists after he supported a bill last year to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Member station WNYC also reported that Frelinghuysen had written a fundraising letter to the employer of one protester who says it led to pressure from her bosses that caused her to resign.
Frelinghuysen was first elected in 1994 and comes from a venerated Garden State political family that traces its roots back to the founding of America. Not only did his father also serve in Congress but he has ancestors who were senators, including Theodore Frelinghuysen, who was the Whig Party's nominee for vice president in 1844 alongside Henry Clay.
With Frelinghuysen's decision, a record 33 Republicans will now leave Congress in 2018. He is also the eighth committee chairman to announce retirement plans this year. While Hillary Clinton only narrowly lost his suburban Morris and Essex County district, there are six other Republicans from districts the Democratic nominee did carry who aren't seeking re-election.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers expressed optimism that the 11th District would stay in GOP hands.
"This district has been held by a Republican since the 1980's, and we plan to keep it that way in November," Stivers said in a statement.
But Democrats pointed to the congressman's exit as growing evidence that Republicans are worried about running in competitive races and adding to the possibilities of the 24 seats they need to flip the House.
"Rep. Frelinghuysen's retirement opens up a very competitive seat that is moving quickly towards Democrats," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Evan Lukaske. "With veteran and former federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill's strong candidacy, and the abysmal approval ratings of Speaker Ryan's Republican Congress, Democrats are confident that this seat will turn blue next November."