Rep. Charlie Dent, Trump critic and leading voice of centrist GOP, to retire

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, who has led a shrinking group of centrist Republicans and frequently clashed with President Trump, announced Thursday night that he will not seek reelection next year.

The decision will end the tenure of one of Pennsylvania’s most visible members of Congress, one regularly sought out by national news outlets to represent the views of more moderate Republicans, such as those from the Philadelphia area.

“As a member of the governing wing of the Republican Party, I’ve worked to instill stability, certainty and predictability in Washington. I’ve fought to fulfill the basic functions of government, like keeping the lights on and preventing default,” he said in a statement.

Dent, 57, cochairs the Tuesday Group, a coalition of moderate House Republicans that includes nearly every GOP congressman from the Philadelphia region. In an interview with several reporters, he predicted a difficult battle for his seat next year, and said his frustration had grown with the instability coming from the White House.

“I’ve always come to accept a certain amount of dysfunction in government, but I guess they’ve taken it to a new level,” he said. “They’ve taken the ‘fun’ out of dysfunction.”

The website City and State Pennsylvania first reported Dent’s intentions, and his hometown paper, the Allentown Morning Call, first published his statement.

He said he had been discussing his future with family and decided in midsummer not to seek reelection after seven terms in Congress. He said he never planned on serving more than five or six terms — though political pundits quickly raised questions about whether his decision may be a sign of trouble for Republicans looking ahead to an election year with a deeply unpopular president leading the party.

Democrats, who had previously made no moves to challenge for his seat, quickly pounced, signaling that they intended to try to take control in a district where registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans — but where Trump won by eight percentage points.

“After nine months of utter failure to get even the most basic things done for hardworking families, it’s no surprise that Dent is as sick and tired of the Republican Party as the American people,” said a statement from Democrats’ congressional campaign arm. “Democrats are confident that a strong candidate will step up to run and represent the people of the 15th Congressional District in November.”

Dent said Republicans face a battle to hold the seat, given the history of midterm backlashes against any party that controls the White House and Congress.

“This will be a hotly contested seat,” he said off the House floor. “All things being equal, a Republican should win, but this will be a challenging midterm election for our party for historical reasons.”

Dent’s outspoken views, including sharp criticism of Trump and strident opposition to Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, had drawn ire from the right, and, earlier this week, a political challenger who attacked the incumbent over his centrist views.

“The number-one turncoat in the Republican Party is the most liberal Republican in Congress — Congressman Charlie Dent,” State Rep. Justin Simmons said in a blistering video this week announcing plans to run against Dent next year in the Republican primary. “Charlie Dent has gone completely off the rails and has been on the wrong side of every major issue.”

Dent said that other “credible” Republicans are ready to run, and that he made his announcement now to clear the way for them to enter the race and battle Simmons.

For years, Dent has gone on cable news and spoken to national media outlets to push against his party’s most conservative elements, urging compromise, and frequently butting heads with Trump.

Along with trying to sink the Republican health plan, he spoke out against Trump’s restrictions on travel from seven largely Muslim countries. Trump angrily accused Dent of “destroying the Republican Party” during a tense Oval Office meeting over health care, the New York Times reported.

Dent, in a later interview, largely confirmed the conversation. Dent said Thursday he began considering retirement after the 2013 government shutdown and had grown frustrated that even basic governance had become “exhausting.”

His centrist standing was affirmed by praise from both Democrats and Republicans.

Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican from Chester County, said in a text message that Dent’s retirement “is a loss to the [Pennsylvania] delegation and the Republican conference. He left it all on the playing field.”

Gov. Wolf wrote on Twitter that he was “proud” to have worked with Dent and that Pennsylvania “will miss his voice of reason.”

Dent represents a divided district centered on Lehigh County, but stretching into parts of Northampton, Berks, Dauphin, and Lebanon Counties.

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