Cathy McMorris Rodgers
U.S. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, R‑Washington, a pow­er in the “oth­er” Wash­ing­ton, announced Thurs­day that she will retire at the end of her tenth term in Con­gress. She is leav­ing at the top of her game, cur­rent­ly chair­ing the influ­en­tial House Ener­gy and Com­merce Committee.

“It’s been the hon­or and priv­i­lege of my life to rep­re­sent the peo­ple of East­ern Wash­ing­ton in Con­gress: They inspire me every day,” McMor­ris Rodgers, fifty-four, said in a state­ment. “They are part of the strength and soul of Amer­i­ca – the great­est exper­i­ment in self-gov­er­nance the world has ever known.”

She fol­lows two oth­er top-rank­ing Repub­li­cans who are not seek­ing reelec­tion, House Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee Chair Kay Granger (R‑Texas) and House Finan­cial Ser­vices Chair Patrick McHen­ry (R‑North Carolina).

The Repub­li­can Par­ty has a ten­u­ous hold on the House, its nar­row major­i­ty hav­ing expe­ri­enced fierce infight­ing. Rebel­lious ultra MAGA mem­bers deposed House Speak­er Kevin McCarthy last fall. The par­ty may well lose con­trol of Con­gress’ low­er cham­ber in the Novem­ber election.

McMor­ris Rodgers is a con­ser­v­a­tive who has rep­re­sent­ed a con­ser­v­a­tive region of the Ever­green State. She grew up in Ket­tle Falls, attend­ed then-unac­cred­it­ed Pen­saco­la Chris­t­ian Col­lege in Flori­da, worked in her family’s orchard and fruit stand, and joined the state leg­is­la­ture by appoint­ment at the age of twen­ty-five. In Olympia, she became a vocal oppo­nent of mar­riage equal­i­ty. She vot­ed against adding “sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion” to Washington’s anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law.

In Con­gress, McMor­ris Rodgers has repeat­ed­ly called for repeal of the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act, sig­na­ture achieve­ment of the Oba­ma administration.

She has vot­ed to make deep cuts in fed­er­al food assis­tance despite rep­re­sent­ing sev­er­al of the state’s poor­est coun­ties. She has described Tik­Tok as “an imme­di­ate threat from the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty.” She backed Pres­i­dent Trump’s deci­sion to take the Unit­ed States out of the Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment. She was a co-chair of Trump’s 2020 reelec­tion campaign.

As chair of Ener­gy and Com­merce, she cham­pi­oned a sweep­ing bill enti­tled the Low­er Ener­gy Costs Act. Passed on a par­ty-line vote, the leg­is­la­tion directs the U.S. Depart­ment of Inte­ri­or to sell new leas­es to drill on fed­er­al lands and in fed­er­al waters. It also elim­i­nates the Biden Administration’s methane reduc­tion pro­gram that charges pol­luters for releas­ing the green­house gas.

It was pro­nounced dead on arrival in the Senate.

Although com­ing from a dis­trict strick­en by wild­fires and heat waves, McMor­ris Rodgers has cham­pi­oned fos­sil fuel production.

Upon becom­ing com­mit­tee chair last year, she said: “The intro­duc­tion of coal, oil and nat­ur­al gas over the last sev­er­al cen­turies has improved pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and peo­ples’ stan­dard of liv­ing across the world.”

While serv­ing as House Minor­i­ty Leader in the Wash­ing­ton Leg­is­la­ture, McMor­ris Rodgers caught the atten­tion of for­mer Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Slade Gor­ton, who was oust­ed by Maria Cantwell in 2000. McMor­ris Rodgers won a com­pet­i­tive pri­ma­ry in 2004 and began a quick rise in Con­gress, join­ing lead­er­ship as Repub­li­can Con­fer­ence Chair. She gained nation­al atten­tion when picked to deliv­er Repub­li­cans’ response to Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2014 State of the Union speech.

Two years lat­er, McMor­ris Rodgers was a final­ist to become Sec­re­tary of the Inte­ri­or in the Trump cab­i­net. She didn’t get the job, but became a cham­pi­on of the Trump Administration’s 2017 tax scam, which deliv­ered the bulk of its ben­e­fits to the country’s rich­est citizens.

Democ­rats mount­ed two seri­ous chal­lenges to McMor­ris Rodgers dur­ing her tenure: in 2006 with future Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands Peter Gold­mark and again in 2018 with future Spokane May­or Lisa Brown. In both cycles, McMor­ris Rodgers pre­vailed, even as Repub­li­cans were los­ing con­trol of the House.

McMor­ris Rodgers has stirred con­tro­ver­sy at times. She has tak­en up the cause of civil­i­ty in pol­i­tics, preach­ing that House mem­bers should get along, while at the same time prac­tic­ing right-wing partisanship.

She has been an out­spo­ken repro­duc­tive rights oppo­nent, for years speak­ing at the annu­al March for Life in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., on the anniver­sary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade deci­sion. She applaud­ed the Ali­to Court’s Dobbs deci­sion that over­turned Roe, allow­ing states once more to out­law abor­tion care.

Dur­ing one Spokane town hall meet­ing, CMR said Planned Par­ent­hood should be inves­ti­gat­ed and hint­ed that the orga­ni­za­tion had been sell­ing fetal tis­sue for prof­it. “We need to bet­ter under­stand what they’re doing,” she told con­stituents. “From what I’ve seen, there are ille­gal activ­i­ties in which they are involved.”

Of her ener­gy bill, Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer observed: “It’s not dif­fi­cult to see that the Repub­li­can pro­pos­al is noth­ing more than a wish list for Big Oil mas­querad­ing as an ener­gy package.”

Pres­i­dent Biden described it as “a thin­ly veiled license to pol­lute” and promised a veto if the bill were to ever reach his desk.

McMor­ris Rodgers made no men­tion of her future plans, nor rea­sons for her retire­ment oth­er than to say it came after “prayers and reflection.”

She did promise to serve her con­stituents “in new ways.” The announce­ment came as a sur­prise, since McMor­ris Rodgers was tapped to nom­i­nate Louisiana Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mike John­son to become Speak­er of the House.

Washington’s 5th Dis­trict is solid­ly Repub­li­can ter­ri­to­ry, and has been for thir­ty years since the 1994 defeat of Speak­er Tom Foley, last Demo­c­rat to hold the seat.

Democ­rats hope McMor­ris Rodgers’ retire­ment gives them an opening.

“At every turn, Cathy has turned her back on the needs of work­ing peo­ple, repro­duc­tive rights, and refused to pro­tect clean air, clean water, and a sus­tain­able cli­mate,” said Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Chair Shasti Conrad.

“I look for­ward to work­ing with the peo­ple of the 5th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict to elect some­one who shares their val­ues of demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples and per­son­al free­doms. Cathy was the lone Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can to vote against the impeach­ment of for­mer Pres­i­dent Trump for his incite­ment of insur­rec­tion and is a strong ally of cur­rent MAGA Speak­er of the House Mike John­son. Her brand of leg­isla­tive chaos will not be missed in our state’s con­gres­sion­al delegation.”

McMor­ris Rodgers is the sec­ond mem­ber of Washington’s del­e­ga­tion to be leav­ing Con­gress this cycle. Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Derek Kilmer is also depart­ing the House, hav­ing rep­re­sent­ed the 6th Dis­trict since 2013.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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