Rep. Devin Nunes' 10th term in Congress will be his last as the high-ranking Republican announced he will retire at the end of the year.
The retirement announcement comes as the non-partisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission has proposed redrawing Nunes' district from a heavily Republican-leaning district to a Democrat-leaning district.
Nunes has served in the House since 2003. He is the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Ways and Means Committee.
In a press release, Nunes said he would leave office by Dec. 31. By leaving Congress, Nunes may set up an early 2022 race for his seat. According to state election law, Gov. Gavin Newsom may call a special election within two weeks of Nunes leaving office. The top two vote-getters in the primary would head to a general election within 200 days of the vacancy, meaning that the Nunes seat could be empty until midsummer.
However, when a vacancy occurs in a congressional office in the final year of the term of office, the Governor may decline to issue an election proclamation at his discretion. Nunes was up for re-election in 2022.
The Tulare native will exit the House of Representatives after he was "presented with a new opportunity to fight for the most important issues I believe in."
"I'm writing to let you know I’ve decided to pursue this opportunity, and therefore will be leaving the House of Representatives at the end of 2021,” an emailed statement to his constituents reads. “I will deeply miss being your congressman. It’s been the honor of a lifetime to represent you, and I thank you for the trust you put in me through all these years."
That opportunity will come as the CEO at former President Donald Trump's new media company, which is launching a social media platform called TruthSocial. The platform will "provide an outlet that encourages open global conversation without discrimination against political ideology," according to a press release.
"Congressman Devin Nunes is a fighter and a leader," Trump said in a statement. "Devin understands that we must stop the liberal media and Big Tech from destroying the freedoms that make America great. America is ready for TRUTH Social and the end to censorship and political discrimination."
Nunes represents California's 22nd Congressional District that covers Tulare and Fresno counties in the Republican-leaning San Joaquin Valley. He assured his supporters that he does not plan to disappear from the public eye.
“Rest assured, I have not, by any means, given up our collective fight—I'll just be pursuing it through other means," Nunes' statement read.
Close ties with Trump
Nunes’ close relationship with Trump cut into his popularity in the district, though. While Trump won Nunes’ district in 2016, his victory margin was a comparatively slim eight points, 53-41 percent over former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Since 2000, other Republican candidates won Tulare County by an average of 24 points. In 2004, President Bush outpolled Sen. John Kerry 66-32 percent.
In 2018 and 2020, Nunes faced tough challenges from Democrats Andrew Janz and Phil Arballo, cutting Nunes’ wins to single digits.
Even more worrisome for Nunes: A proposed redistricting plan for his district. According to the Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman, the new district lines mean that Nunes will go from representing a district Trump carried by five percentage points to a district President Joe Biden carried by nine percentage points. FiveThirtyEight's redistricting tracker estimates that the "partisan lean" of the district favors Democrats by roughly five percentage points.
Arballo, who announced he was running again in 2022, had a blunt response to the congressman's retirement.
"Good riddance," Arballo told the Times-Delta/Advance-Register.
The Nunes news shocked many of his GOP colleagues, who had expected him to seek — and win — the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee gavel if Republicans take back the House in next year’s midterm elections.
Longtime Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the current ranking member of Ways and Means who earlier served as chairman, announced his retirement from Congress earlier this year.
Nunes’s resignation means there will now be a wide-open race to be the top Republican on Ways and Means. Senior Republicans who could run include Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who is also contemplating a bid for an open Senate seat or the Budget Committee gavel.
Early political history
Most Tulare County voters first noticed Nunes — a Tulare native who graduated from Tulare Union High School — in 1998 when he launched a successful legal battle to run for U.S. Congress after Tulare County elections officials moved to strike his name from the primary ballot because he was too young at the filing time to qualify for federal office. He eventually lost that race but made a name for himself in local politics.
After his 1998 primary loss, Nunes waited four years to make another run for Congress while serving on the College of the Sequoias Board of Trustees.
For the 2002 run, he had the backing of Bill Thomas, the powerful Kern County Republican Congressman and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Even more promising: The newly drawn 21st congressional district covered almost all of Tulare County, Nunes’ home county.
Nunes was also appointed by former President George W. Bush to serve as California Director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program.
But even with the backing of those powerful political allies and an advantageous district, the then-29-year-old politician didn’t have a clear path to victory when Jim Patterson, the popular and politically conservative mayor of Fresno, jumped into the 2002 GOP primary race.
Nunes, though, won the primary with strong support among Tulare County voters.
"I thought I could win. No one else did, but I knew I could win," Nunes told the Times-Delta/Advance-Register.
In November 2002, Nunes went on to easily win the general election with 70 percent of the vote. Until the 2018 election, Nunes never polled lower than 63 percent of the vote in elections.
In the 2016 election, Nunes was one of the earliest Congressional supporters of Trump, who visited Tulare with the congressman during campaign fundraising events. Nunes was one of Trump's most outspoken supporters during his administration, serving on his 2017 transition team and as was one of Trump’s most vocal 2019 impeachment defenders.
The AP contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Check back later for more details.
This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: Congressman Devin Nunes will say goodbye to Washington, hello to Trump media company