Oof: House foreign relations committee chair Ed Royce retires, likely handing Dems a House seat

The bad news: This is the 35th House retirement or resignation by Republicans since the start of the congressional term last January. By comparison, just 16 Democrats are on their way out. The good news: Most of the GOPers leaving Washington hail from safely red districts — so far.

The bad news in the good news: Number 35, Ed Royce, isn’t one of them.

“It’s truly an honor to represent the people of California’s 39th Congressional District. Every day, it’s my mission to fight for freedom, opportunity and a limited government. In recent years, we’ve made a real difference. From Sacramento to Washington, we’ve enacted critical reforms to combat the modern day slavery of human trafficking. We’ve achieved commonsense tax and regulatory reforms to help small businesses and middle class families realize their American dream. And with great persistence, we’ve helped shut down the global ivory trade to save the world’s most majestic animals and deny vital funding to terrorist groups and criminal networks.

“In this final year of my Foreign Affairs Committee chairmanship, I want to focus fully on the urgent threats facing our nation, including: the brutal, corrupt and dangerous regimes in Pyongyang and Tehran, Vladimir Putin’s continued efforts to weaponize information to fracture western democracies, and growing terrorist threats in Africa and Central Asia. With this in mind, and with the support of my wife Marie, I have decided not to seek reelection in November.

Reporters have been asking Royce for months if he’s running for reelection. Yep yep yep, Royce told them — and then today, suddenly, nope. November will be a tough month for Republicans nationally; for an endangered species like Royce, a California Republican from a purple district, it may have been unsurvivable. Romney won his district narrowly against Obama in 2012 but Hillary won it easily in 2016, topping Trump by nine points. Royce was probably the party’s only chance of holding the seat, and even that was no sure thing. Without him, CA-39 likely turns blue.

He had plenty of money in the bank, plus 25 years of incumbency and a plum job leading the House Foreign Relations Committee. Why wouldn’t a man in that position want to roll the dice on reelection? Simple: He’s term-limited as committee chair. As noted in the excerpt, this is his last year in charge and there’s nothing he can do about it. Years ago the GOP imposed six-year caps on committee chairmanships, which is a good way to give younger members a shot at leadership but a bad way to give older members an incentive to run for reelection in tough environments. Royce is the seventh committee chairman in the House to announce his resignation this year; faced with the prospect of running an uphill race in November and winning, only to return to the House as a backbencher instead of his committee’s head honcho, he decided to pack it in.

And just like that, instead of having to work hard to flip 24 House seats, Democrats probably only have to work hard to flip 23. Typically when an incumbent from a purple district retires, the prognosticators will move the race from leaning towards his party to a pure toss-up. Not this time:

Lotta bad vibes out there. Lotta fear.