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North Carolina’s Mark Meadows won’t run for reelection

Former Freedom Caucus chairman signals he may go work for Trump

North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, right, is not running for reelection in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, right, is not running for reelection in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, one of President Donald Trump’s closest allies and most vocal defenders on Capitol Hill, is not running for reelection in 2020.

In an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call, Meadows said he knows the timing of his retirement announcement — just after House Democrats voted to impeach Trump — will be spun a thousand different ways but that he’s been mulling this decision a long time. 

“If I were just doing this on my own time frame, I would not have waited this long to do it,” the North Carolina Republican said. “You know, I’m up against a Dec. 20 deadline and and I didn’t want any decision that I made to be a distraction from the important arguments that are being made to defend the president.”

To be clear, Meadows is still planning to defend the president against the impeachment charges as the process moves to the Senate for trial. The former chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus acknowledges that his role as one of Trump’s chief defenders has encroached on his ability to serve his district and was a factor in his decision.  

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But the retirement consideration started long before Meadows assumed that role — before Democrats retook the House majority in 2018 and before Trump’s impeachment moved from a progressive dream to a foregone conclusion. 

Meadows, who was first elected to North Carolina’s 11th District in 2012, had actually been considering retiring last cycle. When he decided to run for a fourth term in 2018, he had a strong inclination it would be his last race. 

“I strongly support term limits and even though I didn’t run on a term limit pledge, my support of term limit legislation would suggest that four terms should be enough,” he said. “The seat doesn’t belong to any one person but to the people of western North Carolina.”

Working closer with Trump

Trump is aware of Meadows’ decision to retire. They talk frequently and the president has discussed with Meadows what life after Congress may look like. Spoiler: They’re going to remain close.

“I’m going to be working closer with the president, not less so,” Meadows said. “Without getting into any specifics, I’ve had ongoing conversations with the president about helping with his team in a closer environment. And I felt like it would be disingenuous to file and then resign at some point in the future and leave my district searching for a nominee.”

For now, those discussions don’t involve Meadows leaving office before his term ends at the end of 2020. He declined to be more specific about what kind of role he could fill in Trump’s orbit.

“It’s my intent to serve out my position as a member of Congress unless the president has a more pressing priority where I could be of assistance,” he said.

Not about redistricting

Meadows is the third member of the North Carolina delegation to announce he won’t run in 2020. Both GOP Reps. Mark Walker and George Holding are retiring because redistricting as a result of a gerrymandering lawsuit left their districts more favorable to Democrats. 

Meadows’ decision isn’t about the recent redistricting in the state, although his district is becoming slightly less Republican under the new lines the General Assembly enacted earlier this fall in response to a state court order.

Trump carried the current version of Meadows’ district by 29 points. But under the new lines, the district voted for Trump by 17 points, according to Daily Kos Elections. The race is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales

Meadows said it’s up to the residents of western North Carolina to decide who will represent the 11 District next but he hopes he’ll be passing the baton to another conservative. 

North Carolina will have an open Senate seat in 2022 since Sen. Richard M. Burr announced in 2016 that this would be his last term. That seat will attract wide interest from both sides of the aisle. Walker has already indicated he’s interested, and met with the White House about running. Holding also hasn’t ruled out returning to politics in 2022.

Meadows, however, won’t be a candidate. 

“I don’t plan to run for Senate ever,” he said. “If I were going to run for Senate, I would have either already run or I would stay in office to run. And that’s not a good reason to stay in office.”

As for seeking other elected office, Meadows said he won’t rule it out but that it’s not something he’s considering.

“I have zero plans to do that right now,” he said. 

Not the ‘Meadows seat’

One of the small signs that let Meadows know it was time to retire was North Carolina officials and political pundits starting to refer to the 11th District as the “Meadows seat.”

“When they start calling it the Meadows seat, you start worrying about the fact that it’s not the people’s seat anymore,” he said. “That’s a small factor, but it is a factor.”

Meadows’ legacy will extend beyond his seat. Much of it may be about his relationship with Trump and how he played a role in unifying the GOP around the outsider president. But his congressional career actually started as an anti-establishment Republican.

In his second term, Meadows helped found the hardline Freedom Caucus as a more conservative offshoot to the Republican Study Committee, the GOP’s largest intraparty caucus. The Freedom Caucus quickly became a thorn in then-Speaker John A. Boehner’s side. Meadows, freelancing a bit from the group, filed a motion to vacate the chair in summer of 2015 — a power move to oust Boehner that contributed to the Ohio Republican’s decision to retire early later that year. 

Meadows become Freedom Caucus chairman, replacing his best friend and founding chairman Jim Jordan, under Speaker Paul A. Ryan’s tenure. He stepped down from the post at the end of September and was replaced by Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs.

Meadows is the 21st House Republican to announce this cycle he’s not seeking reelection or another office but only the second from the Freedom Caucus. The other is Florida GOP Rep. Ted Yoho.

“I’m going to miss the relationships. I’m going to miss the people that I serve. I’ve got wonderful friends and supporters. I never thought public service would be as rewarding as it has been,” he said. 

“It’s been a great honor, probably the greatest honor that I’ve ever had.”

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