Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, will retire from Congress at the end of this term, giving a boost to Democratic hopes of winning back the House of Representatives with wins in fast-changing suburbs.
“I have worked in a bipartisan manner, not just in times of crisis but always, because I believe it best serves my constituents, my state and our country,” Frelinghuysen said in a statement. “My father reminded me often that we are temporary stewards of the public trust. I have sincerely endeavored to earn that trust every day and I thank my constituents and my home state of New Jersey for the honor to serve and I will continue to do so to the best of my abilities through the end of my term.”
Frelinghuysen, first elected in 1994, represents suburbs and exurbs of New York City that had long voted solidly Republican. For 22 years, his father, Peter, represented a similar district; in every election and reelection, the younger Frelinghuysen won at least 58 percent of the vote.
“We’ll sorely miss his leadership in Congress and I wish him well in the next chapter of his life,” said National Republican Committee Chairman Steve Stivers in a statement. “This district has been held by a Republican since the 1980’s, and we plan to keep it that way in November.”
But in 2016, Donald Trump won just 48.8 percent of the vote in Frelinghuysen’s 11th Congressional District. Democrats piled into the 2018 campaign, with Mikie Sherrill, a Navy veteran and federal prosecutor, garnering the most attention and largely clearing the field.
As of her last fundraising report, in October, Sherrill had raised $732,509 — nearly half as much as the retiring Republican. Frelinghuysen, who had never hurt for funds, had not gotten much of a local boost from becoming a House committee “cardinal.”
“While Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen and I did not agree on many issues, as a fellow veteran I deeply respect his service to our country and to this community,” Sherrill said in a statement. “From serving in Vietnam, to the New Jersey legislature, to the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Frelinghuysen dedicated himself to protecting this country.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) performed strongly in the district in his landslide November win; as in other suburbs, Frelinghuysen was also dogged by progressive activists and protesters who formed new organizations to oppose the Trump agenda.
“We’re thrilled,” said Elizabeth Juviler, co-founder of the group NJ11for Change, which pressured Frelinghuysen for months. “We made really clear simple demands that he meet with his constituents and that he make his policies and votes transparent. He refused, day after day. So, he saw the writing on the wall.”