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Vela leaving House in coming weeks to join lobbying firm, reports say

Texas Democrat had previously said he would not seek reelection

Texas Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, who had previously said he would not seek reelection this year, plans to resign to join a lobbying firm.
Texas Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, who had previously said he would not seek reelection this year, plans to resign to join a lobbying firm. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas reportedly plans to resign from Congress in the coming weeks to take a post at the Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld lobbying firm. 

Vela’s plans were first reported in a Tweet Thursday morning by Punchbowl News editor Heather Caygle. He confirmed the report with the Texas Tribune, according to reporter Abby Livingston. 

Vela, who represents Texas’ 34th District along the Mexican border, announced last year that he would not seek reelection. Fellow Texas Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who represents the 15th District, is running for the seat. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 34th District race Solid Democratic

Vela informed the House Ethics Committee in January that he would recuse himself from any matter involving Akin Gump “as a result of my negotiation or agreement regarding future employment or compensation,” according to a document filed with the committee and reported by Forbes

Vela, 58, is a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee whose wife, Rose Vela, was named by President Joe Biden to serve as director of the Commission on White House Fellowships. 

Filemon Vela, who is in his fifth term, had been floated as a potential nominee for Biden’s Cabinet. He won his 2020 election by 13 points, down from a 20-point victory in 2018. Biden carried the district by 4 points, according to a data analysis by Daily Kos Elections. But he would have carried it by 16 points under the new congressional map, according to Inside Elections

“We do not have any comment on Congressman Filemon Vela or his plans after retirement while he is still serving in Congress,” said Akin Gump spokeswoman Sarah Richmond in an email. Vela also did not respond to a request for comment. 

Akin Gump was the second biggest federal lobbying practice in 2021, according to public Lobbying Disclosure Act filings, disclosing $53.4 million from such clients as Amazon, Gila River Indian Community, ​Oneida Indian Nation, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

Like all departing House members, Vela will be subject to a one-year ban on lobbying the legislative branch, though he may still provide some level of strategic guidance. He can also lobby the executive branch. 

It was not immediately clear how Vela’s seat would be filled until the next Congress, but in one scenario, Gonzelez could resign from his district in south-central Texas to run in a special election, setting up another special election in the 15th District. 

The 15th is the state’s most competitive after redistricting. Inside Elections rates the race Tilt Republican and calculates that former President Donald Trump would have carried the district by 3 points in 2020 under the new congressional map. Monica De La Cruz, a Trump-endorsed  business owner considered a top recruit by national Republicans, won the Republican primary there in March. Democrats Ruben Ramirez, an attorney and Afghanistan veteran; and Michelle Vallejo, a small business owner, are set to face each other in a May 24 runoff. 

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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