MILWAUKEE (AP) — Longtime Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner will not be seeking re-election in 2020.
The 76-year-old Sensenbrenner said Wednesday he will retire from Congress in January 2021, at the end of his current term.
Sensenbrenner has served in Congress for 40 years, at first representing southeastern Wisconsin, including Jefferson County, in District 9 from 1979-2003 and since in District 5. Before, that he served 10 years in the Wisconsin Legislature.
Sensenbrenner said that when he began public service in 1968, he stated he would know when it was time to step back. He said he’s determined that after he completes this term — his 21st in Congress — “it will be that time.”
His planned retirement makes Sensenbrenner at least the 15th GOP member of the U.S. House to announce a retirement this year. Among them are former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who retired after 2018; former Gov. Scott Walker (who was defeated in 2018) and current congressman Sean Duffy, who announced he would step down this month to focus on the health problems of the baby he and his wife are expecting.
Sensenbrenner said he is not retiring for health reasons or because he is worried about a re-election challenge. He added that his decision also was unrelated to serving in the minority, where he has spent virtually half his congressional career, and unrelated to the turbulence of Donald Trump’s presidency.
He plans to serve out his current term and said he will back “the Republican ticket from top to bottom” in 2020.
“I’ve said all along I’d know when the right time came and I’ve come to the conclusion it has,” he said. “There is nobody running against me. Nobody can say they’ve pushed me out. I am doing this on my terms.”
He continued: “You can see the end of the line sometime. Being able to do this on my timetable rather than after a redistricting in 2022 will allow me to go out on a high note … This is just me feeling the time would be coming in the next few years, and I think this is the best time for me personally, and for both the Republican Party and for me politically.”
Toward the end of next year, Sensenbrenner will surpass former Democratic congressman Dave Obey as the longest serving member of Congress ever from Wisconsin — at 42 years.
He served six years as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where his best-known accomplishment was the USA Patriot Act that was passed after the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks, and then modified in later years. He had his hand in numerous other issues that came through that committee, including Voting Rights Act. While compiling a very conservative voting record, he also worked across the aisle with liberal Democrats on some issues, including civil liberties.
Sensenbrenner also served four years as chairman of the Science Committee and was one of the House “managers” in the impeachment of Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1998.
The GOP’s internal rules limiting committee chairs to six-years has kept him from leading any House committees since 2007. But the lawmaker said he supported term limits on committee chairs and pointed out that he continued serving in the House long after his chairmanships were over. He said he did that in part to “protect” legislation he wrote or helped to pass, such as the Patriot Act.
Sensenbrenner said he does not plan to take sides in a GOP primary for his current seat.
“The only advice I can give to all them is don’t kill each other,” he said of Republicans interested in seeking his seat.
In a statement, Sensenbrenner said: “I have held over 100 town hall meetings each year; I have helped countless individuals when they have encountered difficulties with the federal government; I’ve taken 23,882 votes on the House Floor; been the lead sponsor or co-sponsor of 4,299 pieces of legislation; ushered 768 of them through the House for passage, and watched as 217 of them have been signed into law by six different presidents.
“I think I am leaving this district, our Republican Party, and most important, our country, in a better place than when I began my service.”
The partisan make-up of Sensenbrenner’s Fifth District makes it likely to remain in GOP hands after the 2020 election, despite the political uncertainty that often comes with an incumbent’s retirement. While Republican support has weakened in some suburban communities in the district, Trump carried the district 57 percent to 37 percent over Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Walker carried it for governor 61percent to 37 percent over Tony Evers.
The district contains some of the highest-turnout Republican communities in America. As a result of his lopsided margins and the district’s high voting rate, Sensenbrenner has in several elections received more votes than any other GOP House candidate in the country. He won re-election in 2018 with 62 percent of the vote.