Jason Chaffetz, Top Online Gambling Opponent in Congress, Announces He Will Not Seek Reelection

U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, the top advocate for Restore America’s Wire Act, announced he would not seek reelection in 2018. As the chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, Chaffetz arguably is the most powerful proponent of anti-online gambling legislation in the current U.S. Congress.

Jason Chaffetz sponsored Sheldon Adelson’s pet bill, Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA), in the House of Representatives from 2014 to 2016. In fact, Chaffetz chaired hearings on RAWA in the Oversight Committee, hoping to gain traction for a bill which would have banned all forms of online gambling in all 50 US states.

Chaffetz and Restore America’s Wire Act

Ultimately, Restore America’s Wire Act failed to gain traction in the Congress, but certainly not due to Chaffetz’s lack of trying. A disastrous and inept hearing held in Chaffetz’s committee in December 2015 is seen as the death knell of RAWA, when even authorities called to support RAWA gave contrary testimony.

In the second half of those hearings, Chaffetz had another GOP congressman preside over the meeting, as if he no longer wished to be associated with the defeat.

It is that combination of partisanship and political savvy which characterized Chaffetz’s stay in Congress. Jason Chaffetz was seen by GOP House leaders and Republican donors as a reliable figure, one reason he rose through the ranks so quickly. Chaffetz was seen as more ambitious than the average Congressman; he ran for Speaker of the House when John Boehner stepped down from the position in November 2015 (Paul Ryan subsequently won the position).

Jason Chaffetz Retires from Congress

The decision to retire from the US House of Representatives came as a surprise to people on both sides of the aisle. Rep. Chaffetz did not give Speaker of the House Paul Ryan any forewarning of the announcement. Chaffetz maintains he is leaving to return to the private sector and spend more time with his wife and children.

Despite his spinning the decision to leave Congress as something that had the support of his party’s leaders, it is clear the GOP leadership was blindsided by the news. One senior Republican told the Atlantic, “The political class here is reeling right now. Nobody has any idea what’s going on.

Rise through the GOP Ranks

The 50-year old Utah representative was considered a rising leader in the Republic Party, achieving widespread power and influence in his 8-year career in Washington. The House Oversight Committee chairman is the only chairman in the House of Representatives with the power to issue subpeonas without a judge’s order, so the Oversight chairman is considered a particularly powerful committee position.

It was that position which allowed Rep. Chaffetz to lead the Republicans’ investigation of the Benghazi scandal. Democrats believed Chaffetz hounded former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over her role in Benghazi, while Republicans widely lauded Chaffetz for doing the same. The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Chaffetz even taunted Secretary Clinton on Twitter, suggesting he planned to continue his investigations into her conduct.

Led Hillary Clinton Investigations

Because of his Javert-like enthusiasm in the Clinton scandal, Democrats criticized Jason Chaffetz for declining to investigate possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. He also declined to investigate conflict-of-interest concerns brought on by Donald Trump’s decision not to divest himself of the Trump Organization.

In the wake of his announcement to retire, many in Washington have speculated about a possible scandal in Chaffetz’s own conduct. Those speculations have ranged from wild conspiracy theories (blackmail by the Russian FSB) to the lurid (extramarital affairs). The mainstream speculation tends to center around the desire to make money off his DC career and ambitions back in his home state of Utah.

Chaffetz: “I Have Made a Personal Decision”

Rep. Chaffetz referenced those rumors in a subsequent press release, stating, “For those that would speculate otherwise, let me be clear that I have no ulterior motives. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins. I have the full support of Speaker Ryan…I have made a personal decision.

Given the fact Chaffetz represents Utah, he very likely is correct that he would have been reelected. Utah is one of the safest Republican strongholds in the United States, and Utah has a 100% ban on gambling.

The top theory is Jason Chaffetz wants to run for Utah governor in 2020. Others suggest he plans to run for U.S. Senate in 2018, when the octogenarian US Sen. Orrin Hatch is up for reelection — and has indicated he might retire. Still others take Chaffetz at his word that he wants to return to the private sector, possibly awaiting those future political opportunties.

Reasons Chaffetz Left U.S. Congress

In any of those conditions, there is a certain logic to leaving Congress beforehand. In his position as Oversight Committee chairman, the pressure likely will mount to see him investigate President Donald Trump. Chaffetz is savvy enough to see that Trump investigations have harmed the career of Devin Nunes, while pressures mounted for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the case.

Stepping aside early would keep Chaffetz from either alienating Trump voters he needs to win future offices, or stepping into the general vitriol and scandal that the Russian investigations have encouraged to this point. Jason Chaffetz already has seen the white-hot anger of voters in 2017, as he attended town hall events back in Utah were voters chanted “Do your job! Do your job!

Chaffetz later suggested those chanters were bused from outside his district to stage a protest, but he knows the anger at the Trump ascension is real.

In light of those choices, Jason Chaffetz is going to leave his influential position in the House GOP. In fact, the speculation after his announcement is the Republicans are preparing for a special election in Utah, because Chaffetz is going to leave the House of Representatives in the near future. He appears to be getting out of the Beltway before the fallout happens.

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