In another loss for an effective Congress, Rep. Patrick McHenry, who has represented North Carolina’s 10th Congressional district for nearly two decades, announced Tuesday that he won’t seek reelection.
The departure of the Lincoln County Republican who values results over social media celebrity will be a loss for a House virtually paralyzed by the obstruction and dissent caused by grandstanding MAGA types. He joins more than three dozen members of Congress, many citing the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, who have announced they will not seek reelection.
McHenry started as a conservative agitator when he entered Congress in 2005 as its youngest member at 29. But during his 10 terms, he has done what today’s unbending Donald Trump loyalists cannot do – he grew in office. He studied the issues and understood that progress often requires compromise. He respected and won the respect of members of both parties.
Scott Stewart, who first met McHenry when they both were college roommates and members of College Republicans, said in a Politico profile of the congressman, “At some point he decided, I’m going to get bored running around like a crazy person here and I’m not going to matter — if I take it seriously I can make a difference.”
McHenry, 48, may be best remembered as the first interim speaker of the House after Republican insurgents led by Rep. Matt Gaetz ousted their party’s own speaker, Kevin McCarthy. In his historic role, McHenry – who was the top of McCarthy’s secret list for speaker succession in the event of a national emergency – refused to accept expanded powers during the House’s 22-day leadership vacuum or seek the post permanently. He saw his duty as maintaining order until a new speaker was elected.
Now, he and McCarthy are both leaving the chaotic Congress they tried to bring to order.
McHenry, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, also played a key role in negotiating this year’s debt-limit deal with the Democrats. That agreement kept the nation from going into default and protected the economy from tilting toward a recession.
“Huge relief to actually see a bipartisan bill make its way through the House and Senate and get a presidential signature,” he said at the time. “And honored to be a part, even a small part of this big undertaking in divided government.”
McHenry deserves praise for being the only Republican in North Carolina’s delegation to vote to fully accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, a vote that showed courage and faith in the U.S. electoral process.
He said in a statement. “While I am proud to have supported President Trump’s agenda and am honored to have worked with him as he accomplished so much, I cannot violate the oath I took. It is my duty to uphold my Constitutional responsibilities.”
With that, he put principle above party much as his fellow North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr showed when he voted to convict Trump for his role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol. The central committee of the North Carolina Republican Party censured Burr for that vote.
Part of McHenry’s evolution from firebrand to a defender of the House’s role and responsibilities did not involve changes on his part. Trump has pulled Congress so far toward obstructive and destructive extremism that traditional conservatives now count as moderates.
In announcing that he will not seek reelection, McHenry said, perhaps with more hope than conviction, that the House will weather this period of extremism.
“Past, present, and future, the House of Representatives is the center of our American republic,” he said. “Through good and bad, during the highest of days and the lowest and from proud to infamous times, the House is the venue for our nation’s disagreements bound up in our hopes for a better tomorrow. It is truly a special place — and as an American — my service here is undoubtedly my proudest.”
As the smoke cleared from the Jan. 6 Capitol assault, McHenry voted for an orderly transfer of power. But nearly two years later, insurgency still hobbles the House. Representatives who stand up for good order, honest debate and fair dealing are the best defense against those who would undermine the democratic process.
McHenry contributed to that defense. It will be diminished without him.
Associate opinion editor Ned Barnett can be reached at 919-404-7583, or nbarnett@ newsobserver.com