On Thursday, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that there’s “bipartisan speculation” that freshman GOP Rep. Steve Watkins could resign from Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District, though it said that the reasons for his possible departure were unclear. The paper also writes that party leaders in both DC and in Kansas are trying to pressure Watkins to quit.
However, the congressman doesn’t sound like he’s going anywhere. On Friday, he tweeted, “Let me get this straight…. I have to deny a resignation that no one called for. Got it. Done. K, going back to work. See you in November.” (Watkins isn’t up for re-election this November, but don’t tell him that.) Earlier that same day, his chief of staff, Jim Joice, argued that unspecified “absurd” rumors about Watkins’ personal life had come from operatives in Kansas who wanted to hurt the congressman. Joice would not say which party he thought was spreading these rumors.
The Kansas City Star also reported on Friday that the chatter about Watkins’ future had in fact begun at least a week earlier. The executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, Shannon Golden, told the paper the following day that the party had held a conference call on Tuesday to discuss the Watkins situation, though she denied they were trying to convince him to step down. An unnamed source also said that the NRCC isn’t playing a role in any attempt to get Watkins to leave.
Altogether, it’s a strange story based on nothing more than whispers. The Star said of the rumors, “So far, the speculation has been unsubstantiated and no evidence has emerged to support the innuendo,” but Watkins himself, of course, felt the need to address the matter nevertheless.
The congressman in fact attended an in his district on Thursday where he showed no obvious sign that anything was amiss. Watkins even said at one point, “Media, I’m sure you have questions. We’ll do an interview.” After his address, though, the Capital-Journal says that the congressman was speaking to a constituent when he “placed his cellphone to his ear and abruptly left the Boiler Room Brewhaus through a side door.” Two reporters spotted the congressman entering his waiting car and shouted questions to him about the rumors of his imminent departure, but he ignored them and “smirked as the vehicle pulled away.”
The 2nd District, which includes Topeka and nearby rural areas, backed Donald Trump 56-37. However, it hosted a very tight race last year, thanks both to the strength of the Democratic candidate, former state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, and the weakness of Watkins. Watkins presented himself on the campaign trail as an adventurer who had built up a defense contracting company called VIAP, but multiple media reports exposed him as a serial liar.
Among many other things, senior officials at VIAP said they didn't even remember Watkins. The candidate ended up admitting that, despite what he'd said many times about his business career, he'd never actually owned or expanded VIAP, but he went back to lying about the same topic weeks later as though nothing had ever happened. About a week before Election Day, a woman also publicly accused Watkins of making "unwanted sexual advances" against her 12 years earlier. Watkins ended up defeating Davis in a very expensive contest, but only by a 48-47 margin.
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