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Not Running for Re-Election, Chaffetz Will Be Lame(r) Duck Oversight Chair

House Oversight chair's decision not to run in 2018 described as "a big victory for the Trump resistance over one of administration's chief enablers"

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah. (Photo: Brookings Institution/flickr/cc)

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a polarizing conservative figure and primary target of the resistance, announced Wednesday that he won't run for re-election in 2018.

As chair of the House Oversight Committee, Chaffetz investigated Planned Parenthood as well as former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's role in responding to the 2012 Benghazi attack and use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State.

His doggedness did not appear to apply to the GOP; earlier this year, as the Associated Press reports, he "drew fire from Democrats after saying he would not investigate [President Donald] Trump's sprawling business empire, given that he had promised before the 2016 election that he would investigate Clinton 'for years' if she was elected."

Indeed, his refusal to hold Trump accountable left him vulnerable during February's congressional recess, when one town hall meeting saw hundreds of constituents shouting at him, "Do your job!"

Furthermore, noted Randi Spivak, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's public lands program, "Chaffetz is among the most aggressive members of Congress bent on privatizing and developing some of our country's most iconic and cherished wildlands, and he has voted against protecting endangered species at every opportunity."

"Everyone who loves America’s public lands and wildlife will breathe easier once Rep. Chaffetz leaves Congress," Spivak said.

BuzzFeed first reported the news that Chaffetz would not run in 2018 on Wednesday, and Chaffetz confirmed in a Facebook post shortly thereafter. Some speculated that he would run for Utah governor in 2020.

Chaffetz was already facing a notable 2018 challenge from newcomer Kathryn Allen, a family physician who launched her campaign last month after Chaffetz said on national television that "rather than get that new iPhone," low-income Americans may have to prioritize spending on healthcare. The Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this week that Allen "has leapfrogged Rep. Jason Chaffetz in nearly every metric of campaign fundraising: She raised more money, received contributions from more people, and, after expenses, has more cash available to spend."

Chaffetz said Wednesday that he has the support of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to stay on as head of the Oversight committee, but it remains unclear how Chaffetz will approach his chairmanship "without the pressure of running for re-election," as Public Citizen's Lisa Gilbert told Common Dreams. As a "lame duck" in that post, she said, he could "ramp up his attacks, or sit back."

But the chance that he'll choose the latter path is too risky, said Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth Action. Describing the lawmaker's decision as "a big victory for the Trump resistance over one of administration's chief enablers," Schreiber added: "Make no mistake, Chaffetz must resign from his chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Americans deserve an independent and ethical committee chair who is willing to protect us from the Trump administration."

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