The Republican congressman has represented The Keystone State’s 15th Congressional District since 2005 and is completing his seventh term in office.
Dent, currently chairman of the House Ethics Committee, is more widely known as a stalwart member of the House GOP’s moderate wing. Since the 2016 election, he has been a more vocal critic of President Trump than many of his Republican colleagues. Dent also serves a co-chair of the Tuesday Group – a caucus of moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives.
While the announcement comes as a surprise to some, Dent says he’s been mulling retirement for quite some time. The Pennsylvania Republican’s opinion of Capitol Hill soured after the 2013 government shutdown. He has since been very discouraged by what he sees as chronic dysfunction in Washington. The recent gridlock was a major factor in his decision to leave.
“I’ve always said down the street there’s been a fair amount of instability, uncertainty and dysfunction. I’ve always come to accept a certain amount of dysfunction in government,” he said Thursday. “But, I guess they’ve taken it to a new level. They’ve taken the fun out of dysfunction.”
“Accomplishing the most basic fundamental tasks of governance is becoming far too difficult,” Dent also said. “It shouldn’t be, but that’s reality.”
However, Dent added that it was never his plan to serve in Congress for an extended period of time. He actually didn’t think he’d be in office this long.
“Frankly, I never planned on serving, voters permitting, more than 5 or 6 terms in the US Congress,” Dent said. “I’m now serving my seventh term.”
Dent leaves behind a seat that Democrats think they can win. Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District does have a moderate streak. The district includes Pivot Counties – counties that voted for Obama, but swung to Trump last year. In fact, President Obama won the district outright in 2008 and barely lost it 2012. But Democrats should not get too excited. This district voted for Republican Donald Trump by 8 points last year (a pretty decent margin). Also, Dent carried his district by a 20-point margin last year.
Nevertheless, Democrats see the open seat as a pickup opportunity and will surely pounce as 2018 nears.
As for the GOP, Pennsylvania state Rep. Justin Simmons, a more conservative legislator, had announced a primary challenge against Dent earlier. He was, unsurprisingly, thrilled at the Thursday announcement. It’s unclear if Simmon’s challenge had any influence in Dent’s decision to retire.
Dent follows a few other GOP House members retiring next year.
Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced in April that this would be her final term. On Wednesday, Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican from Washington state, said he, too, would not be running for re-election. Both Ros-Lehtinen and Reichert represent districts that voted for Hillary Clinton last year – making their retirements much more of a headache for the GOP.
More retirement announcements are expected to come in the following months. Twenty-two House members, on average, retire every election cycle.