Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a fierce defender of President Donald Trump through his White House tenure, plans to leave his seat at the end of this month to become chief executive at Trump’s new social media company, the company announced Monday.
Nunes would have been in line to be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, if the GOP takes back the House majority in 2022. But by stepping down, he is giving up what is considered the most powerful committee gavel.
Nunes represents a historically Republican district that was growing more competitive even before the current round of redistricting. In 2012, President Barack Obama lost Nunes’s 22nd Congressional District, in California’s Central Valley, by 15 points. Last year, Joe Biden lost it by just six points.
As he became better known as a Trump defender, Nunes became one of the party’s strongest fundraisers. He spent $11.6 million on his 2018 reelection, when he held off a Democratic challenger by single digits, and spent most of the $26.8 million he raised for his 2020 race.
Early drafts of California’s next map put Nunes in a less Republican district in the Fresno area, one that backed Biden by nine points. Before the announcement Monday, Republicans were watching to see whether Nunes would switch to a new seat that was safer for his party — which would have pitted him against one of his Republican colleagues.
By leaving Congress before his term ends, Nunes will set up an early 2022 special election for his seat. According to state election law, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) must call a special election within 14 days of Nunes leaving office, and a primary must be held 18 to 20 weeks later. The top two vote-getters in the primary would head to a general election, meaning that the Nunes seat could be vacant until midsummer.
In a statement Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Nunes’s departure “leaves a gaping hole in this institution” but praised him as being the best prepared person “to compete head-to-head and lead an alternative to the big tech and big media cartel.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the House Republican Whip, also congratulated Nunes on his “next chapter.”
“I know he will be successful in his future endeavors as a champion for free speech and conservative voices everywhere,” Scalise said in a statement.
Phil Arballo, a Democratic business executive who unsuccessfully challenged Nunes in 2020 and is running for the seat in 2022, responded to the news of Nunes’s retirement with a two-word statement: “Good riddance.”
The Trump Media & Technology Group, which Nunes will head, has not yet released any products to the public and missed its self-imposed deadline to roll out a beta-test version of its social media service in November. It has released very little about its operations or its staffing: In documents filed on Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company identified its tech staffers only by their first names and last initials. The chief technology officer is Josh A., and the chief product officer is Billy B.
Before Nunes, the company had released the full names of just two top employees: Trump, who is described as chairman of the company, and streaming-content executive Scott St. John.
Still, the company has vast ambitions. In investor presentations, it has said it plans to compete with tech giants from Twitter to Amazon Web Services to Disney Plus. In projections shown to investors — and included in SEC filings — the company said it might have 81 million users and $3.6 billion in revenue by 2026.
And it has attracted interest from outside investors. In October, a special-purpose entity called Digital World Acquisition said it had agreed to merge with Trump’s business, a move that would give the newly formed Trump company a public stock listing. Afterward, the stock price of Digital World shot up from $10 to $94, as retail investors bought the stock. On Saturday, Trump’s company said it had secured $1 billion of additional money from private investors, which the company would receive after its merger with Digital World goes through.
Also on Monday, Digital World said it had received “preliminary, fact-finding inquiries” from both the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a private group by which the securities industry regulates itself. Those inquiries followed a New York Times story saying that Trump’s company and Digital World may have been in discussions about a merger earlier than they had said publicly. The Times said that, in doing so, the companies may have skirted securities laws and required disclosures.
Trump, in the release announcing Nunes’s departure from Congress, called him “a fighter and a leader … [who] understands that we must stop the liberal media and Big Tech from destroying the freedoms that make America great.”
In response, Nunes was quoted as saying: The “United States of America made the dream of the Internet a reality and it will be an American company that restores the dream.”
Felicia Sonmez, Marianna Sotomayor, David A. Fahrenthold and Aaron Gregg contributed to this report.