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Utah Republican announces resignation from Congress

By Sarah May
|
June 1, 2023

After more than a decade of service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Chris Stewart (UT-02) has announced that he will step down from Congress prior to the expiration of his current term, as The Hill reports.

Though he did not state precisely when he would depart his current role, Stewart cited ongoing, yet unspecified concerns with his wife's health as the reason for his decision.

Stewart to Leave Congress

The Republican lawmaker, currently in the midst of his sixth term in the lower chamber confirmed reports of his imminent resignation this week, as the Deseret News notes.

“It has been one of the great honors of my life to serve the good people of Utah in Congress. My wife and I have made so many dear friends and memories throughout our journey,” Stewart began.

The congressman continued, “I can say with pride that I have been an effective leader for my beloved home state, and I'm honored to have played an important role in guiding our nation through some troubled times.”

Explaining the reason for his impending transition, Stewart said, “But my wife's health concerns have made it necessary that I retire from Congress after an orderly transition can be ensured.”

Majority Likely Safe

Stewart currently sits on both the House Appropriations and Intelligence Committees, and though Republicans possess a precariously narrow majority in the chamber, their advantage is not poised to shrink over the long term, given that Democratic Rep. David Cicilline (RI-01) leaves Congress on June 1 to assume a new professional role, as The Hill notes.

Furthermore, chances are good that Stewart will be replaced by a fellow Republican, given that his congressional district overwhelmingly favored former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden in the 2020 contest.

Utah law provides that the state's governor must call a special election to address the vacancy within seven days of its creation, and as such, that duty will fall to Spencer Cox, himself a Republican.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the dates of the primary and special elections for Stewart's seat will be the same as those for municipal and general elections, as long as the state legislature does not designate a different timeframe.

Reactions Pour in

As the Deseret News further noted, Stewart's announcement prompted a flood of reactions from past and present colleagues alike, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (CA-20) stating, “At this moment right now, his spouse needs him. So, he's made that decision. It was not an easy decision for him. But we will continue to hold that seat.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) remarked, “With a heavy heart, I bid farewell to my esteemed colleague, Representative Chris Stewart. Representative Stewart is a true statesman who has consistently demonstrated dedication and integrity while tirelessly fighting for the interests and well-being of his constituents.”

“Sharon and I wish Chris, his wife Evie, and their entire family all the best as they embark on this new chapter of their lives. He has left an indelible mark on the House of Representatives and his impact will be felt for generations,” Lee added.

Former Republican Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz declared Stewart “one of the best to ever serve” and added his gratitude for the lawmaker's service in both the U.S. Air Force and in the federal legislature.

Possible Replacements Floated

Almost as soon as Stewart's decision was confirmed, Becky Edwards, who mounted a GOP primary challenge to Lee last year, declared her plans to run for the soon-to-be vacant seat, according to KSL-TV.

Democrat Kael Weston also indicated potential interest in the vacancy, writing on Twitter that he is “seriously considering” seeking his party's nomination in the special election process.

The implications for Utah's representation in D.C. resulting from Stewart's decision are likely to flow to the U.S. Senate as well, given that the congressman was widely seen as a likely candidate for the seat currently occupied by Mitt Romney.

Given that no information was provided about the nature or possible duration of Mrs. Stewart's health issues, whether her husband is likely to mount an attempt to return to Washington in an official capacity anytime in the future remains an open question.