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- American politician
- 45th President of the United States
Rep. Devin Nunes, a controversial San Joaquin Valley Republican and ardent supporter of Donald Trump, is leaving Congress by the end of the month to head a social media company created by the former president.
"I will deeply miss being your congressman," Nunes said in a message to his constituents on Monday.
Shortly after he sent the note, the Trump Media & Technology Group announced that Nunes, 48, would be its chief executive officer beginning in January.
"Devin understands that we must stop the liberal media and Big Tech from destroying the freedoms that make America great," Trump said.
Trump started the social media company after he was banned on Twitter and Facebook in January after the Capitol insurrection.
Nunes said he was "humbled" that Trump asked him to lead his new company, which is planning on launching a social media platform called TRUTH Social.
"The time has come to reopen the internet and allow for the free flow of ideas and expression without censorship," Nunes said.
Sitting members of Congress face significant restrictions on negotiating private sector jobs while still in office. However, the constraints are widely disobeyed.
The former dairy farmer's retirement comes in the midst of the every-decade redrawing of congressional districts and as California loses a member of Congress for the first time in its history.
Nunes represents California's 22nd District, which is made up of parts of Fresno and Tulare counties. It includes the cities of Clovis, Visalia, Tulare and part of Fresno.
Under draft redistricting maps released in November, Nunes would have faced a tough reelection in the 2022 midterms because his district would have become much more Democratic. Nunes could have used his considerable campaign funds to mount a competitive run in a more favorable seat because members of Congress do not have to live in their districts.
If he had run and was successful, Nunes was poised to become chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee should Republicans take the majority in 2022, as expected.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy praised Nunes' work for Californians.
"The Central Valley of California is better off because of his relentless pursuit of the priorities that sustain our way of life, from water to agriculture to healthcare to economic growth," McCarthy said in a statement. "Devin’s departure leaves a gaping hole in this institution, but his dedication to our country will persist."
A special primary election to fill Nunes' seat will likely be held in April, with the general election scheduled at the same time as state primaries in June for the new congressional districts. That means candidates who run to fill Nunes' seat could also find themselves campaigning for another congressional district simultaneously.
Among the Republicans being floated as possible candidates for the special election to replace Nunes are state Sens. Shannon Grove and Andreas Borgeas; state Assemblymen Devon Mathis and Jim Patterson; Fresno County Supervisors Nathan Magsig and Steve Brandau; and Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld. Democratic state Sen. Melissa Hurtado said her supporters had urged her to run.
Nunes is a prolific fundraiser, a notable trait among members who are not in leadership. It is an outgrowth of his prominence on the House Intelligence Committee and his senior position on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
In the last election cycle, he pulled in more than $26 million, ranking him fourth in the entire House for money raised directly for a member’s personal campaign account (versus the party accounts that leaders typically support), according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks money in politics. He reported $11.8 million in cash on hand at the end of September.
Nunes started his career in public life in 1996, when at the age of 23 he was elected to the Board of Trustees for the College of the Sequoias, where he earned his associate's degree. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Nunes the California state director for the rural development section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Nunes has served in Congress since 2003. As the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee during the first impeachment of Trump, Nunes positioned himself as a key ally and defender of the former president.
He took a leading role in GOP efforts to discredit special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election and during the House’s Russia investigation and, later, Trump’s impeachment.
It was a marked contrast from 2017, when Republicans controlled Congress and Nunes was chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He and Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, now the Democratic chairman, jointly started the committee’s investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, but the bipartisanship quickly soured.
Shortly after the investigation began, Nunes went to the White House to brief Trump on what he viewed as evidence that U.S. spy agencies were monitoring the Trump transition team during the Obama administration.
Under heavy criticism, Nunes apologized for sharing the information, and the House Ethics Committee investigated whether he mishandled classified information. The committee later cleared him. But Nunes had to formally recuse himself from the Russia investigation, allowing him to become one of Trump's most full-throated supporters on Capitol Hill.
Nunes drew headlines for several lawsuits he filed in an attempt to squelch criticism, notably an unsuccessful effort two years ago against Twitter over parody accounts named Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Mom. He said the accounts defamed him and his reputation, costing him political support in his 2018 reelection.
Such efforts, along with Nunes' unyielding loyalty to Trump, led to Nunes becoming a top target for liberal scorn across the nation.
"Good riddance," said Democrat Phil Arballo, who unsuccessfully ran against Nunes in 2020 and had planned to challenge him next year.
Nunes' retirement will provide a small but immediate boost to House Democrats: As soon as Nunes leaves office and while his seat is vacant, Democratic leadership will have a bit more breathing room in their slim majority.
Nunes is the third member of the California congressional delegation to announce their retirement. Rep. Jackie Speier, a Bay Area Democrat, said last month she would not seek reelection, and Rep. Karen Bass this year decided to run for mayor of Los Angeles instead.
Mehta reported from Los Angeles and Haberkorn from Washington.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.