US midterm elections 2018

Republican Trump critic Charlie Dent to resign from US Congress, potentially setting up special election

The congressman had already announced his intention not to run for re-election but now won’t even finish his term

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 12:53am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 1:54am

Pennsylvania Representative Charlie Dent, a frequent critic of US President Donald Trump and a leader of the Republican Party’s moderate bloc in the House, said on Tuesday that he will resign from Congress within weeks. 

His decision could set up a costly special election ahead of the November 6 general election if the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania orders one. Such an election could force Republicans to spend millions to defend the seat. 

Dent had already announced his retirement from Congress in September, citing personal reasons for the decision while also lamenting the marginalisation of the “governing wing” of the Republican Party as the party moved further to the right.

He said in a statement released on Tuesday that he will leave “in the coming weeks”. He did not offer a reason for his decision to depart now rather than finish his term.

“Actively engaging in the legislative and political process presents challenges, and in so doing, I believe I have had a positive impact on people’s lives and made a difference in Congress,” he said. 

“I am especially proud of the work I have done to give voice to the sensible centre in our country that is often overlooked or ignored. It is my intention to continue to aggressively advocate for responsible governance and pragmatic solutions in the coming years.”

Dent, 57, is a co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, made up of several dozen centrist House Republicans, and he is chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies.

US House Speaker Paul Ryan will not seek re-election

A busy primary race was already underway to replace him in his Allentown-based district. But his departure will open up a congressional seat and remove his voice from the daily fray even sooner.

One option that would spare the state added expense – but leave the district without a representative – would be to hold the special election concurrently with November’s general election.

That is what happened in Philadelphia after Representative Chaka Fattah was convicted on corruption charges in 2016.

Dent’s resignation in the coming weeks could set up a competitive and costly special election, depending on the wishes of Governor Tom Wolf. 

Pennsylvania election law requires the governor to issue a writ of election within 10 days of a vacancy, with an election to follow “not less than 60 days” later. 

“Once Governor Wolf receives an official resignation notice with an exact date, he will make a formal decision regarding scheduling the date of a special election,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

Democrat Conor Lamb won a March special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, which Trump had won by 20 points in 2016. 

Dent’s district is much more competitive for Democrats – it voted for Trump by eight points – and it is set to become even more competitive after a court-ordered redistricting. But a special election would fill the seat based on the existing lines.

With additional reporting from the Associated Press.