John Katko, Pragmatic Republican Who Voted to Impeach Trump, Bows Out of 2022 Race
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Republican Rep. John Katko, a former Justice Department prosecutor who distinguished himself as a pragmatic public servant in Congress, announced Friday that he will not be seeking reelection later this year.
Perhaps best known to the general public as one of the Republicans who broke ranks with his party and voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, the four-term incumbent had spent much of the past year at odds with GOP colleagues.
On Friday, he bowed out of the maelstrom gracefully.
“After 32 years of public service, I have decided not to seek reelection to Congress, so that I can enjoy my family and life in a fuller and more present way,” he said in a statement.
He continued: “My conscience, principles, and commitment to do what’s right have guided every decision I’ve made as a member of Congress, and they guide my decision today. It is how I’ve been able to unite people to solve problems, and how I was rewarded with resounding victories in every single campaign for Congress.”
Katko has represented New York’s 24th congressional district in the Syracuse area since 2015, and the statements released through his congressional website have long been filled with news about his home and neighbors in Central New York State.
Whether presenting a long overdue medal to an aging veteran or securing infrastructure and economic development funds for a region often overshadowed due to its proximity to New York City and its surrounding suburbs, Katko was a public servant first and Beltway “personality” last.
Which is not to say he hasn’t filled some high profile roles in Washington. He currently serves as the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee and he’s been a leader in the effort to address the present shortage of semiconductors in the U.S. and bring the supply chains for precious commodities closer to home.
Throughout his tenure in Congress, Katko has also distinguished himself for his ability and willingness to work across the aisle to get things done on Capitol Hill. For several years, he was at the top of the list of House members who routinely secured bipartisan support for the bills he proposed.
Three years ago, at “Legislating from the Middle,” a forum sponsored by Center Forward and hosted by The Well News at the Newseum’s Knight Center, Katko admitted he “never thought I’d be in politics.”
“I spent most of my adult life as a federal organized crime prosecutor, literally traveling the world going after drug cartels, porn traffickers, organized crime, political corruption, you name it,” he recalled.
Every time Katko opened a significant case, he’d form a task force composed of local, state and federal law enforcement personnel, and in each instance, he’d find himself frustrated by his new colleagues’ “different priorities and different goals.”
“Then one day, two colleagues of mine said, ‘you can either sit on the sidelines and continue to gripe about it, or you can do something about it,’” he said.
Katko launched his first congressional campaign wanting to make a difference specifically by showing that people of different philosophical persuasions could rack up real achievements together and that bipartisanship can work.
Katko said his personal philosophy in this regard was informed by the relationship of former House Speaker Tip O’Neill and former President Ronald Reagan.
“They were diametrically opposed in terms of political ideology, and yet they managed to get things done [in their day] that if we could get them done [today] we would be heroes — Social Security reform, immigration reform, tax reform and tax cuts,” he said. “And they did that together, a conservative Republican and a liberal speaker of the House. We need to get back to that.”
Not that anyone should expect being a centrist and willing to reach across the aisle is easy. Katko said the days he knows he’s doing well are those when both the far left and far right in the House are angry with him.
“I constantly have to walk a tightrope, but it’s worth it,” the representative said.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. paid a simple tribute to her colleague when she heard he’s not running for re-election.
“I first met John Katko in ‘14 when we were both new candidates,” she said in a tweet. “No one thought a Republican could win his district. Not only did he win, he has won in landslides ever since. John is one of the most effective members for his constituents.”
Katko’s real travails with his party began on Jan. 6, 2021, when he publicly called on Trump to intervene and end the siege on the U.S. Capitol. Days later, the New York representative became the first of 10 Republicans to announce their intention to vote to impeach Trump over the riot.
“To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequence is a direct threat to the future of our democracy,” Katko said at the time. “He cannot be the standard-bearer of our party going forward.”
Such actions earned Katko the permanent animus of the former president.
Last year, Trump sent a letter to the Onondaga County Conservative Party saying he planned to support a primary challenge against Katko in 2022.
And on Friday, just after Katko announced his decision to retire, Trump sent out an email that said, “Great news, another one bites the dust. Katko, from Upstate New York, is gone!”
Katko was also one of just 13 Republicans to vote for President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill and one of 11 to vote to censure GOP firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.
Though he solidly voted with his party against Democratic priorities like voting rights and the Build Back Better Act, he did from time to time support measures important to Democrats like the pro-union Pro Act and the Equality Act, which extended additional protections to members of the LGBTQ community.
And even Katko’s retirement could hold a silver lining for Democrats. Biden defeated Trump by nine points in Katko’s district in 2020, and the retirement of a popular GOP incumbent may be just what the party needs to pick up the district.
If there’s an epitaph to Katko’s congressional career, it perhaps stems from something he said at the Legislating from the Middle forum.
“I want to get to the point where compromise is cool,” he said then. “Today, everything is about messaging bills [that have no chance of enactment] and this doesn’t get us anywhere. We have a lot of big things we need to deal with, starting with infrastructure and health care and other issues that we’re just sweeping under the rug.”
“We take bullets every day and get the crap kicked out of us every day,” Katko said of himself and his fellow moderates. “And yet for some strange reason I find it’s worth it. I take pride in it. The bottom line is that bipartisanship is just the right thing to do.”
Disclosure: The Well News is partially owned by Cori Kramer, the executive director of Center Forward.
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