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House Republican announces abrupt retirement from Congress, dropping McCarthy's already small majority

Samuel Corum - Pool/Getty Images

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart (Utah) announced Wednesday that he will retire from Congress.

The Salt Lake Tribune first reported on Stewart's retirement plans.

In a statement, Stewart said that serving in Congress "has been one of the great honors" of his life but explained his wife's health made his retirement "necessary."

"I can say with pride that I have been an effective leader for my beloved home state, and I’m honored to have played an important role in guiding our nation through some troubled times," Stewart said. "But my wife's health concerns have made it necessary that I retire from Congress after an orderly transition can be ensured."

Stewart did not specify what health problems his wife faces. He is expected to step down officially as early as this week.

The announcement is significant because House Republicans have only a four-seat majority in the House. And if the debt ceiling crisis has proven anything, it's that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy cannot assume every member of the Republican conference will support his agenda simply because they have an "R" next to their name.

It's not that Democrats are likely to win his seat — Stewart, in fact, has steamrolled Democratic candidates vying for Utah's 2nd Congressional District for the last decade — but his departure means McCarthy has one less vote to rely on. Now, McCarthy can afford to lose support from only three Republicans to pass any given legislation.

Still, McCarthy praised Stewart and said his decision to step down is evidence that Stewart possesses superior character.

"I talked to Chris yesterday, and you've got to understand why he’s doing this — it’s the character of who he is, it’s because of his wife and taking care of his wife," McCarthy said on Wednesday. "It's the decision everybody should make at that time. He has sacrificed, his family has sacrificed, but at this moment right now his spouse needs him. So he's made that decision. It was not an easy decision for him. But we will continue to hold that seat."

To fill Stewart's seat, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) will have to call a special election. The primary election will then take place at least 90 days after Cox initiates the special election, and the general election will take place at least 90 days after the primary.

But because the state's August primary is less than 90 days away, it might not be until March 2024 that Stewart's seat is ultimately filled, Axios noted.

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