Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced Wednesday he will retire from the Senate at the end of his term, dealing moderate Republicans and those opposed to former President Trump a major blow.
Romney said in a statement that it’s time for a new crop of political leaders to step in.
“I have spent my last 25 years in public service of one kind or another. At the end of another term, I’d be in my mid-eighties,” Romney said in a press release. “Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders. They’re the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.”
The decision by Romney, 76, will all but bring his political career to an end — a career that includes his 2012 general election loss to former President Obama, a term as governor of Massachusetts and six years representing Utah in the Senate.
His single term in the upper chamber will be widely remembered for his votes to convict Trump in both of his impeachments — the only Senate Republican to have that distinction.
Romney had been weighing a decision on whether to seek a second term for months and initially said he would wait until October to announce one way or another.
Senate GOP sources indicated they were unsurprised, yet disappointed, with the decision because Romney was in the middle of several high-stakes negotiations during his tenure in office, highlighted by his work on the bipartisan infrastructure law in 2021.
“Makes me sad,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), another member who is commonly involved in major bipartisan talks.
The outgoing senator won his 2018 contest with 63 percent of the vote. He was facing potentially a more difficult reelection contest — Utah state House Speaker Brad Wilson (R) already announced a bid with the support of dozens of conservatives in the state. Trent Staggs, mayor of Riverton, Utah, also rolled out a bid.
One Utah GOP operative told The Hill more people will likely consider a bid, including Tim Ballard, the founder and former CEO of Operation Underground Railroad, an anti-sex-trafficking organization and the inspiration for the controversial movie “Sound of Freedom.”
The operative also said two “big question marks” are former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Robert C. O’Brien, who served as Trump’s national security adviser at the end of his term. Chaffetz has left the door open to a potential bid, though he has conceded he’d prefer to run for the state’s governorship at some point.
As for O’Brien, the source noted he recently moved to the Beehive State, which would allow him to run for the office next year.
Romney told reporters in his office on Wednesday that he does not plan to endorse anyone to replace him next year and questioned the effectiveness of them overall.
“I don’t intend to make endorsements,” Romney said, adding they “aren’t worth a bucket of spit,” paraphrasing an old comment made to former President Johnson about the vice presidency.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement the GOP will “nominate a candidate who will keep Utah red in 2024.”
Romney told The Washington Post his decision was also influenced by what he sees coming down the rails: a six-year stretch that could be more unproductive than his first term has been, citing the intransigence of House Republicans and the lack of leadership by President Biden and the ex-president.
“It’s very difficult for the House to operate, from what I can tell,” he told the outlet, “… and perhaps more importantly, we’re probably going to have either Trump or Biden as our next president. And Biden is unable to lead on important matters and Trump is unwilling to lead on important matters.”
Romney added to reporters on Wednesday that he represents the “wise wing of the Republican Party,” but that the faction is a “small wing” of the GOP overall.
The sudden announcement seemed to catch some lawmakers off guard. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) appeared surprised when informed of the news by a reporter during a press conference, saying that he will “miss him.”
Trump on Wednesday gloated over Romney’s decision, saying that it was “FANTASTIC NEWS” for the U.S., Utah and the Republican Party.
“MITT ROMNEY, SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS PIERRE DELECTO, WILL NOT BE SEEKING A SECOND TERM IN THE U.S. SENATE, WHERE HE DID NOT SERVE WITH DISTINCTION,” Trump wrote. “A BIG PRIMARY FIGHT AGAINST HIM WAS IN THE OFFING, BUT NOW THAT WILL NOT BE NECESSARY. CONGRATS TO ALL. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Romney infamously met with Trump to discuss the possibility of serving as the then-incoming president’s secretary of State. The job ultimately went to Rex Tillerson.
Updated at 5:20 p.m.