GOP congressman who refused to meet with constituents announces retirement

Powerful chairman of House Appropriations committee retires, joining Republican exodus from Congress.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. CREDIT; Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. CREDIT; Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, will not seek reelection, he announced Monday. He adds to the record number of House Republicans retiring ahead of the 2018 midterms, including a number of other powerful House chairmen.

Many of the other chairmen who have announced their retirements, however, would have had to vacate their posts due to term-limits, while Frelinghuysen could have kept his chairmanship for four more years. His announcement further encourages Democrats looking to take back the House, leaving open a seat in the competitive district. Although the district has leaned Republican in the past, President Trump won the district in 2016 by less than one point.

In a statement Monday, Frelinghuysen said he has “always worked in a bipartisan manner” and thanked his constituents.

“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 the release. “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.”

But one of his constituents painted a different picture in a conversation with ThinkProgress Monday.

Elizabeth Juviler, the co-executive director of NJ 11th for Change, a nonpartisan group promoting political transparency, said they had been pushing Frelinghuysen to meet with constituents for months to talk about issues important to them and he had refused.

“He’s refused us at every step without question,” Juviler said in a phone call with ThinkProgress. “He’s betrayed us with his votes.”

When it became clear Frelinghuysen wasn’t going to meet with Juviler or any of the other 8,000 people that make up NJ 11th for Change, Juviler said they took to protesting at his district office every Friday. Although they weren’t actively working to push Frelingheysen to retire when they started NJ 11th for Change, Juviler said Monday that she believes his announcement is proof that he was feeling the pressure from his constituents.

“This is exactly what democracy looks like,” Juviler said Monday. “We’re just regular people with like kids and jobs and, you know mortgages or rents to pay and health insurance to deal with or find and dogs to walk… We set out to advocate for ourselves and we made the change.”

Frelinghuysen has represented the district since he was first elected in 1994, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said they consider the district a pick-up even before Frelinghuysen announced his retirement Monday.

So far, five Democrats are in the running to replace Frelinghuysen, including former federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill, who has been endorsed by the Giffords PAC and End Citizens United PAC.

Many politicos and Congressional watchers see Frelinghuysen’s retirement — and the slew of retirements to which he adds — as a sign of a coming blue wave. Earlier this month, an unnamed senior House Republican told Politico it “feels like 2006,” a year Democrats won 31 seats and handed the gavel to current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

That feels-like-06 sense is backed up by generic ballot polling, where Democrats lead by an average of just less than eight points. That lead has, however, diminished in the weeks following the passage of the tax bill, according to a new poll from CNN.