WASHINGTON (AP) - Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican who doggedly investigated Hillary Clinton before the 2016 presidential election but declined to investigate President Donald Trump, said Wednesday he won’t run for re-election or any other office in 2018.
Chaffetz, who has been rumored as a possible candidate for Senate or governor, says that after consulting with his family and “prayerful consideration, I have decided I will not be a candidate for any office in 2018.”
The 50-year-old Chaffetz had strolled to four easy re-election wins in his Republican-friendly Utah congressional district. But he was facing a surprising challenge from a Democratic newcomer who raised more than a half-million dollars by tapping into anger over Chaffetz’ recent comment suggesting people should spend their money on health insurance instead of iPhones.
Dr. Kathryn Allen has been transformed from a political unknown into a liberal hero for calling out Chaffetz on Twitter, giving her an early boost in name recognition.
Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, also drew fire from Democrats after saying he would not investigate Trump’s sprawling business empire, given that he had promised before the 2016 election that he would investigate Clinton “for years” if she was elected.
In a social-media statement, Chaffetz noted that he has long advocated that public service should be for a limited time. He said that after more than 1,500 nights away from home, “it is time” to step aside. He said he has “no ulterior motives,” is healthy, and is confident he would be re-elected.
Chaffetz was met by frequent, deafening boos at a February town hall as constituents grilled him on various issues. Chaffetz repeatedly said, “hold on,” and “give me a second,” as audience members in a Salt Lake City suburb reacted negatively to nearly all his statements.
In a CNN interview in March, Chaffetz was asked how lower-income Americans would get access to health insurance if the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” is repealed by congressional Republicans.
“Americans have choices,” he responded. “Maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
The remarks triggered a firestorm of criticism on social media with people comparing how many iPhones they could buy if they didn’t have to pay medical bills in the tens of thousands of dollars. Chaffetz later conceded on Fox News that his point about people being self-reliant didn’t come out as smoothly as it could have.
Half of the voters are registered Republicans in Chaffetz’s 3rd congressional district, which stretches from suburban Salt Lake City to desert towns in southeastern Utah and includes heavily conservative Mormon areas. Chaffetz won 73 percent of the vote last fall, and Trump won the district by 24 points.
Chaffetz is at least the seventh House Republican to resign this year or announce plans to retire, including four who left to join Trump’s Cabinet. Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota is running for governor, and Reps. Sam Johnson of Texas and Lynn Jenkins of Kansas are retiring.