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Democrat to resign House seat in June

By Sarah May on
 February 23, 2023

Democrat Rep. David Cicilline (RI-01) has unexpectedly decided to leave his seat in Congress this summer to lead a prominent nonprofit organization in his home state, as The Hill reports.

A special election for the vacancy that will result from his departure will be scheduled once he makes his resignation official, something which has not yet occurred.

Cicilline stepping down

According to an announcement from Cicilline's office, the congressman intends to leave office effective June 1, 2023, as the Providence Journal noted and will become the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.

Cicilline said in a statement, “Serving the people of Rhode Island's First Congressional District has been the honor of my lifetime. As president and CEO of one of the largest and oldest community foundations in the nation, I look forward to expanding on the work I have led for nearly thirty years in helping to improve the lives of all Rhode Islanders,” the lawmaker added.

Dr. G. Alan Kurose, chair of the foundation's board of directors said of its choice of leader, “It was a high priority for us, from the beginning of this search process, to attract a diverse pool of candidates. Congressman Cicilline's career-long fight for equity and equality at the local, national and international level, and his deep relationships within Rhode Island's communities of color are two of the many factors that led us to this decision.”

The foundation is reportedly the state's largest philanthropic organization, awarding $76 million in grants during 2021, and the soon-to-be former congressman will be paid $650,000 per year in his new role – a dramatic jump from his congressional salary.

Prominent Trump foe to depart

Having served in Congress since 2011, Cicilline gained particular notoriety in recent years for his role as one of the Democrats' managers for the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump, as The Hill noted.

Cicilline's antipathy toward Trump remained so strong that late last year, he began circulating and seeking co-sponsors for legislation designed to bar the former president from ever again holding federal office, as ABC noted at the time, though the measure ultimately failed to gain sufficient traction.

As the Providence Journal explained last fall, a letter from Cicilline to Democratic colleagues outlining the proposal made heavy reference to language in the 14th Amendment declaring, “No person shall...hold any office, civil or military, under the United States...who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

Cicilline went on to rely on information presented by the now-defunct House Select Committee probing the events of Jan. 6, 2021 to contend that “Trump engaged in insurrection” on that day “with the intention of overturning the lawful 2020 election results” and “attempted to intimidate state and federal officials when they did not support his false claims and unlawful plans.”

Reactions pour in

It was not long after Cicilline's impending move was announced that reactions and tributes from fellow lawmakers began to issue forth, as Providence CBS affiliate WPRI reported.

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) took to Twitter and said, “@davidcicilline has been an able, hard-fighting colleague, and I'll miss his spirit in our delegation, but he'll be a fabulous leader for @RIFoundation so bravos everywhere.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) also offered praise for the congressman, saying, “David Cicilline has always been an incredible champion for Rhode Island and for working families. David is an incredibly effective legislator who tackled big issues and got things done to improve people's lives and help Rhode Island. He's been a leading voice on human rights, civil rights, marriage equality, gun safety, anti-trust, bringing back manufacturing jobs, and so much more.”

Democratic Rep. Seth Magaziner (RI-02) echoed that praise, saying, “For over a decade, Congressman Cicilline has served the people of Rhode Island's First Congressional District with honor, courage, and decency. Many elected officials can only dream of achieving as much as Rep. Cicilline has during his time in Congress, and I thank him for his many years of dedicated public service to the people of Rhode Island.”

What comes next?

Though Cicilline has declared his intention to leave the congressional seat in June, Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee (D) – who has the authority to set a date for the special election to fill it – cannot act until the resignation is made official, as the Providence Journal noted separately.

Olivia DaRocha, a spokesperson for McKee explained, “The governor cannot issue the formal writ of election until there is a vacancy for that seat. We will have more to say on the timing of the special election in the coming weeks.”

The Secretary of State's office told the Journal that the earliest date on which a primary could be held and remain in compliance with election laws would be Aug. 8.

Though a number of prospects have reportedly already expressed an interest in possibly running for Cicilline's seat, University of Virginia political science professor Jennifer Lawless says the door is open for a surprisingly wide range of potential candidates, saying, “I think it's a smart shot for anybody that has ambitions to go to Washington.”