Rep. Martha Roby announced Friday she will not seek reelection, making her the second of the House GOP’s 13 women in six weeks to retire ahead of 2020.
The Alabama congresswoman’s departure complicates Republican efforts to shore up the party’s female contingent after losing half of its members in the last election. Rep. Susan Brooks (Ind.), the House Republicans’ recruitment chair, announced her retirement in June, and Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the House GOP conference chairwoman, is mulling a run for the Senate.
House Republicans had expected to add another woman to their ranks in a North Carolina runoff nominating contest earlier this month. But the female candidate, Joan Perry, lost to state Rep. Greg Murphy, putting the GOP on track to add another white man to its caucus in the fall.
Perry’s defeat came despite having the backing of all of the House GOP women as well as the Winning for Women Action Fund, a GOP super PAC created for the sole purpose of electing more female Republicans in congressional races.
The House has a record number of women, but 89 of those 102 seats are held by female Democrats.
The National Republican Congressional Committee downplayed the significance of losing another female member.
“Chairman [Tom] Emmer is committed to making the House Republican caucus more diverse,” NRCC spokesman Chris Pack said. “We’ve already met with over 200 women considering running for Congress and will continue doing so. We look forward to having many more women as part of our new Republican Majority after the 2020 elections.”
Roby’s decision comes the same week that Reps. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) and Pete Olson (R-Tex.) announced their retirement. House Republicans recently lost another member, Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), who quit the party over his objections to Republicans’ embrace of President Trump.
Roby did not provide a reason for her retirement, instead thanking her constituents and touting her work on issues related to the “miliary, veterans, agriculture community and the unborn.”
“We are not finished yet,” she said in a statement. “While my name will not be on the ballot in 2020, I remain committed to continuing the fight for Alabama and the people I represent until I cast my last vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.”
Roby was elected in the tea party wave of 2010, unseating a conservative Democratic incumbent, Bobby Bright. The district was redrawn to be more conservative, giving Republican presidential candidates more than 62 percent of the vote, and Democrats did not seriously challenge Roby in 2012 and 2014.
But the 2016 election shook her standing in the district. After the release of the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that showed Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women, Roby said the then-GOP nominee’s behavior “makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president” and that she could not vote for him.
“The best thing for our country and our party is for Trump to step aside and allow a responsible, respectable Republican to lead the ticket,” Roby said. “Hillary Clinton must not be president, but with Trump leading the ticket, she will be.”
Republicans in Alabama were outraged. One month later, Roby won only 49 percent of the vote, as many conservatives refused to support her. Roby’s un-endorsement of Trump haunted her into 2018, when she was forced into a runoff with Bright — who was now a Republican and an avowed Trump supporter.
“Roby turned her back on President Trump when he needed her most,” said one of Bright’s TV ads.
But Bright had his skeletons, too, mostly his vote in support of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for House speaker on his first day in Congress in 2009.
Trump ultimately endorsed Roby, calling Bright a “recent Nancy Pelosi voting Democrat” and effectively sinking Bright’s chances.