Utah Rep Chris Stewart to resign from House, shrinking GOP majority

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, is planning to resign from Congress before the end of the year, according to multiple reports.

Stewart, a six-term lawmaker, is expected to announce his intent to leave the House of Representatives Wednesday due to his wife’s illness, The Associated Press reported. His resignation would leave open a Republican seat on the House Appropriations and Intelligence committees — and reduce an already narrow GOP majority to just four seats.

Utah law states that the governor must call for a special election in the event of a House vacancy. Once Stewart makes his resignation official, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox will have seven days to set the time for a primary and special election. The law requires those dates to be the same as municipal primary and general elections scheduled for this year, unless the state legislature appropriates funds to hold a separate election.

A Republican candidate is heavily favored to fill the vacancy. Stewart represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, a reliably GOP constituency in western Utah that stretches from the Salt Lake City metro area to St. George. In the 2022 midterm election, Stewart easily defeated Democratic challenger Nick Mitchell, winning re-election with a landslide 63.4% vote share. 

However, until a special election happens, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will have even less room for error when whipping votes. Assuming united Democratic opposition, McCarthy can only afford to lose three Republican votes on any given legislation. Intra-party fighting between hard-line conservatives and moderates already threatened to tank a Republican border security bill this year, and current GOP disagreements on the debt ceiling deal demonstrate plenty of Republican lawmakers are willing to buck the party line. 

Stewart’s retirement would also reshape Utah politics, as he was widely believed to be considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., or the governor’s mansion. His wife’s illness would put those plans on hold, creating opportunities for other ambitious Republicans.

Stewart, a U.S. Air Force veteran and author, was first elected in 2012 and collaborated with Utah’s Elizabeth Smart on a memoir about her kidnapping. The 62-year-old Stewart was raised as a potential nominee for U.S. director of national intelligence during former President Trump’s administration. Little is known about Stewart’s wife’s health.

The Salt Lake Tribune first announced Stewart’s plans to resign. His resignation would mark the second time a Utah congressman has left office early in the past six years. Former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz resigned from office in 2017, stepping away from his role as chairman of the House Oversight Committee and prompting a special election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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