Rep. Mike Rogers holds one of the most coveted spots in Washington as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He has access to the nation’s most closely held secrets, wields power in deciding the fate of U.S. spy programs, and enjoys a seemingly ubiquitous Sunday-morning presence on network TV.
Yet Rogers (R-Mich.) says he can have a bigger impact as a radio talk show host.
So on Friday he made a surprise announcement: Rogers will leave Congress after this year to take a job with Cumulus Media, a radio giant with 460 stations in 89 markets and a big-name roster of hosts that includes Don Imus, Mark Levin, Carson Daly and Michael Savage.
“My theory is, if I can move the needle on the 2016 elections and the conversation and the dialogue about America’s future, then I’m equally as excited about that than I am about the work I’m doing right now,” he said in an interview.
Rogers said the show will give him “a very large national platform” and an opportunity “to talk to people in their cars and living rooms and homes every single day.”
Rogers, 50, who will serve out his House term, declined to say what he will be paid in his new job.
As the House intelligence chairman, Rogers’s profile has risen in recent months as he has staunchly defended the National Security Agency and its bulk collection of telephone data amid a series of leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden.
A former FBI agent who jumped into Michigan state politics in the 1990s before running for Congress in 2000, Rogers has jousted in recent months with some of the more libertarian members of his party who have been critical of the NSA and of what they call Congress’s lax oversight.
On Friday, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. called Rogers’s decision “a loss” for the nation’s intelligence community, noting that as an FBI agent and former Army officer, he has “served our nation with distinction.”
Rogers has two years left on his term as chairman, so his announcement set off an unexpected scramble among some of the committee’s senior members.
The committee’s membership is determined solely by the speaker and minority leader. Aides familiar with the process said that committee members Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) are leading contenders. Nunes, a prolific fundraiser and close ally of GOP leaders, is considered the early favorite, said the aides, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
For Rogers, the decision to leave Capitol Hill and hit the airwaves puts him on a trajectory familiar to other Republicans who have pivoted between politics and punditry.
There is Florida congressman-turned-MSNBC star Joe Scarborough. And actor-turned-Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, who went back to acting before running for president, hosting a radio show and serving as a TV pitchman. Former Arkansas governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee ended his radio show in December but still hosts a Fox News program and is mulling a 2016 presidential bid.
“My discovery was that of the three roles that I’ve had in politics — candidate, officeholder and talk show host — the easiest thing in the world I’ve ever done is to be the talk show host. Because you don’t have to govern. It’s really hard to govern.” Huckabee said in an interview in December.
Cumulus, in its announcement Friday, described Rogers as a “media-savvy politician who last year appeared on more Sunday public affairs shows than any other elected official in the nation.” The company’s news release credited Rogers with being “involved in the country’s most urgent matters including the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the debate surrounding NSA-leaker Edward Snowden, the search for Malaysia Air 370 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.”
But Rogers is entering a crowded, hyper-competitive industry in which frequent appearances on the relatively staid set of NBC’s “Meet the Press” are not necessarily the best training ground to go up against superstars such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
“There’s no shortage of politicians who like to hear themselves on radio,” said Jim Farley, a radio news consultant and recently retired vice president of news at WTOP-FM in Washington. “Rogers is good, but hardly unique.”
Rogers said the radio offer came unsolicited from Lew Dickey, the chief executive of Cumulus. The two sat next to each other at the wedding of a mutual friend.
Dickey was unavailable for an interview Friday, but in a statement, he said he was “thrilled” to have Rogers sign on. “He has been instrumental helping to shape many of the most important issues and events of our time and will play a significant role in our expanding content platform,” he said.
Rogers is a close ally of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and is the third sitting House committee chairman to announce his retirement this year. He is the 25th member of the House and the third member of the Michigan congressional delegation to announce plans to step down.
Back in Rogers’s district, a crowded field of candidates could scramble to run for the House seat with less than a month until the filing deadline. Democratic enthusiasm was spurred Friday in part by the lean of the district, which tilts toward Republicans, but not by much. Mitt Romney won 51 percent of the district in the 2012 presidential election, while President Obama received 48 percent. Obama won 52 percent in that district in 2008.
Paul Kane, Karen Tumulty and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.