Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks, who was appointed to lead the NRCC's recruitment efforts in January, revealed on Friday that she had completely failed in her job when she announced that she would retire from Congress at the end of this term. Surprisingly, though, it sounds like Brooks will still be in charge of finding another Republican to try and hold onto her seat, which has been drifting to the left in recent years.
The congresswoman told USA Today on Thursday, the day before she made her decision public, that she hadn’t even told the NRCC she was retiring, throwing up her hands and saying, “I have no idea what they’re going to do.” Brooks acknowledged she might need to step down as recruitment chair, though remarkably, committee chair Tom Emmer told a reporter just after her retirement became public, “Susan has assured me that she will be increasing her recruitment efforts, so we are full steam ahead.”
Brooks’ decision is not just an embarrassment to House Republicans: It will also give Democrats an even better shot at picking up her district. Indiana’s 5th District, which includes Indianapolis’s northern suburbs, had long been reliably red. However, after voting for Mitt Romney by a 57-41 margin in 2012, it gave Donald Trump a smaller 53-41 win four years later even though the state as a whole was moving in the opposite direction.
And that trend continued last year: Even though Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly lost his bid for re-election by a 51-45 spread, the National Journal previously reported that he narrowly carried the 5th. Democrats had talked about targeting Brooks before she retired, and her departure should make this an even more tempting race for Team Blue.
There’s a third big reason why Brooks’s departure is a huge problem for the GOP: A former U.S. attorney who was first elected to Congress in 2012, Brooks is one of just 13 women in the House Republican caucus. (As FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich snarked on Friday, “Just like that, the GOP caucus loses 8% of its women.”)
What’s more, Brook had been tasked with expanding that very small pool. However, that role was a step down from the job she actually wanted: In late 2018, just after the GOP’s electoral wipeout, Brooks was booted off her party’s influential Steering Committee, which is in charge of assignments to other committees, and she publicly acknowledged how “disappointed” she was. (Brooks was, of course, replaced on the committee by a man.)
Speculation soon swirled that Brooks could leave the House to run for state attorney general or just outright bail. The NRCC, of course, huffily dismissed any such possibility. In February, after the DCCC issued a list of possible GOP retirees that included Brooks, an NRCC spokesperson responded, “Democrats adding Susan Brooks to a retirement list is almost as laughable as their Green New Deal.” The aide continued, “Before Democrats try abolishing ICE, airplanes and individual freedoms, perhaps they should start by abolishing this asinine list.”
Brooks herself seemed to commit to running again in the early spring, with Roll Call reporter Simone Pathé writing that the congresswoman was “energized by her position as chairwoman of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee.” However, given the extreme dysfunction that has engulfed the NRCC lately, we shouldn’t be surprised that Brooks grew to find the job a whole lot less energizing now.
Brooks said she wouldn’t run for any other office next year, explaining, “This really is not about the party. It’s not about the politics. It’s just about, ‘How do I want to spend the next chapter of my life?’” Evidently, that chapter does not include helping her party claw its way back from the minority next year.
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