Citing poisonous political climate, Mitchell announces retirement from Congress

Rep. Paul Mitchell with former Speaker Paul Ryan | Facebook
Updated, 4:05 p.m., 7/24/19 with comments from Reps. Lawrence and Tlaib

In a speech Wednesday morning on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden) announced that he would not run in 2020 for a third term in Congress.

Mitchell cited personal reasons and a general disillusionment with the current political climate, saying he would return to his family farm in Dryden in Michigan’s safely Republican 10th Congressional District stretching from Macomb County into the Thumb.

“A career in Washington has never been my objective,” Mitchell said Wednesday. “My objective has always been simply to work to address significant challenges this nation faces: health care, immigration and infrastructure, for example.”

“However, it appears to me that rhetoric overwhelms policy, and politics consumes much of the oxygen in this city. … As a result, I have decided I will not seek to continue to represent Michigan’s 10th District next term.  After serving out the remainder of the 116th Congress, I will return to my family and our small farm,” he continued.

News of Mitchell’s retirement was first reported in Politico

“I think leaders have to lead,” Mitchell told Politico. “They have to stand up, and they have to demonstrate what we should expect of each other in our country. I was commenting earlier to our senior staff, ‘Do we see the next four [years], in the near term, the better angels coming out of this?’”

The announcement follows the news last week that Mitchell had asked for a personal meeting with President Donald Trump to protest Trump’s supporters chanting “Send her back” against Mitchell’s colleague in the House, freshman U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Somali refugee. He asked for the meeting in his capacity as representative of the U.S. House’s sophomore GOP class.

Report: Rep. Mitchell retiring in 2020

Last Friday, Mitchell also visited the southern border as part of a bipartisan trip that included Michigan U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph).

Reps. Paul Mitchell, Elissa Slotkin and Fred Upton visit the southern border | Rep. Upton photo

Mitchell, a businessman who grew up in Waterford Township and was most recently CEO of the for-profit Ross Medical Education Center, spent more than $7 million of his own money on his first two congressional bids in 2014 and 2016. 

The 10th District he currently represents is unlikely to see a competitive general election. It voted for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 30 points in 2016, and hasn’t had a Democratic representative in almost 20 years.

But there could be a crowded GOP primary — Mitchell was one of five candidates who ran for the nomination in 2016, and won by just 8,000 votes over former state Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair Shores). 

Mitchell’s predecessor, GOP former U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, who held the seat for 14 years before returning to Macomb County as its public works commissioner, had harsh words for Mitchell. In a statement released Wednesday morning, she said his comments “leave something to be desired.

Candice Miller

“I would have appreciated seeing some recognition of the great people of the 10th District — good, decent, hard-working people who sent him to Washington, D.C. on their behalf,” Miller wrote. “The time is right now for a person to step forward who fully appreciates the opportunity and the responsibility that comes with serving as the member of Congress from this great district and can truly represent the people of Michigan’s 10th.”

Mitchell also was criticized at the time of his 2016 primary campaign by former state Sen. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Twp.) for moving into the district just the prior summer. Mitchell had previously sought the nomination in 2014 in the 4th District in mid-Michigan, which he lost to now-U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland).

In contrast with Miller, Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox had warm words for Mitchell in her own statement.

“Congressman Paul Mitchell has done an amazing job representing the people of Michigan and fighting for his constituents in the 10th District,” Cox wrote. “His passion for workforce development and training has impacted countless lives. I was saddened to learn of his upcoming retirement from Congress, however I respect his decision to spend more time with his family and wish him the best.”

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) leaves after a caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol January 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) sympathized with Mitchell’s concerns about the political climate.*

Tlaib has been the subject of several Trump attacks and has faced death threats.

“Right now, and I’ve been here for seven months, the kind of toxicity with words is actually seeping into our policy and positions,” Tlaib told the Advance on Wednesday.

She referred to the toxic climate as a “crisis” and said lawmakers need to vote for their districts and for their country before their party. Doing otherwise, Tlaib added, is “endangering our democracy.”

Lawrence told the Advance that “the environment now in Washington is one that pulls on the heart strings,” adding that people need to set a better example about how to treat others. “We’re setting values that don’t align with America,” she said.

The congresswoman said she didn’t agree with Mitchell on many policy positions, but she knew he was “frustrated” and “literally hurt” by the comments and climate. Lawrence noted she didn’t expect him to retire and that lawmakers need to “mentally be able” to withstand what she called a “storm.”

“There is going to be a better day,” she added.*

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash | Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Mitchell’s retirement opens yet another hole in the Republican Party’s congressional roster in Michigan, in a key presidential election year. 

Although the 3rd District currently held by former Republican U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) has drawn a slew of potential challengers seeking the Republican nomination, no serious candidate has yet announced to oppose either Slotkin and U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Rochester). 

The two freshmen flipped Republican-leaning, Southeast Michigan-anchored districts in 2018’s Democratic wave election, and their respective 8th and 11th districts were expected to be the top 2020 races to watch. 

Republicans had hoped to recruit businessman John James to oppose Stevens, who, like Slotkin, has already amassed a formidable war chest for her first re-election campaign. James, however, opted to mount another bid for the U.S. Senate, this time challenging U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) just two years after his unsuccessful campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing).

Stevens, Slotkin set the pace for Michigan congressional fundraising

That’s left Republicans in the lurch seeking credible challengers, as Democrats hope to expand their 2018 gains even further. 

Upton, a House veteran of more than two decades who faced an unexpectedly competitive Democratic challenge in 2018, has been put on a “retirement watch list” by national Democrats. His most high-profile opponent, state Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo), announced recently that his campaign has raised more than $300,000 in the first quarter of its effort to flip the reliably Republican 6th District in Southwest Michigan.

Advance Washington correspondent Allison Stevens contributed to this story.

Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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