RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, who presided temporarily over the U.S. House for three intense weeks while Republicans struggled to elect a permanent speaker after Kevin McCarthy's ouster, announced Tuesday that he won't seek reelection to his seat next year.
McHenry, who was first elected to the House in 2004 at age 29, unveiled the surprise decision the day after candidate filing started in North Carolina. He currently represents the 10th Congressional District covering several counties north and west of Charlotte entering the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
He had announced his reelection bid in late October, just two days after the completion of another congressional redistricting by the Republican-controlled legislature that is likely to keep the reconfigured 10th District on the GOP side of the ledger in the November 2024 election. That announcement also came two days after U.S. House Republicans ultimately got behind Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana to become the next speaker.
McHenry's news release didn’t explain his reversal.
“I will be retiring from Congress at the end of my current term. This is not a decision I come to lightly, but I believe there is a season for everything and — for me — this season has come to an end," McHenry said. "I look forward to what the next season brings for my family and me.”
Known as the bow tie-wearing chairman of the Financial Services Committee, McHenry had risen through the House Republican ranks in recent years. As a top lieutenant to McCarthy, McHenry helped him win the speaker’s contest in January and negotiate the debt limit deal made with President Joe Biden later in the year.
McHenry then became a semi-celebrity figure by Capitol Hill standards when he was thrust into a stark spotlight in October when for the first time in history the House evicted its speaker.
According to House rules, McHenry was picked from a list McCarthy was required to keep to become the acting speaker — also known as speaker pro tempore — until the chamber figured out who would be the next leader.
The typically personable and upbeat McHenry took on a more serious demeanor in the new role, shunning the scrum of reporters that trailed his every step and refusing to answer most questions -- but often with a knowing half-smile.
As several candidates for the job rose and fell, McHenry resisted overtures from some Republicans and Democrats who wanted to give McHenry more power to get on with the routine business of governing. McHenry insisted his only job was to elect the next speaker.
McHenry was never a contender for the speaker’s job himself. When Johnson was ultimately elected Oct. 25, McHenry gaveled the vote closed, with an exhaustive sigh of relief, and retreated to his perch leading the financial services panel.
McHenry, now 48, married and with three children, ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat in 1998, but he won four years later. In 2004, McHenry pulled off an upset by winning the 10th District GOP primary, narrowly defeating a popular local sheriff in a runoff before winning in the general election.
McHenry entered Congress as a hardline conservative willing to speak against leadership, but over time McHenry went up the GOP leadership ladder, becoming the Republicans’ chief deputy whip in 2015, and a key part of McCarthy’s team.
In-state congressional colleagues praised McHenry for his service, with Republican Sen. Thom Tillis calling him "an extraordinary leader and problem solver who always rises to the occasion."
“His decades of service to the people of North Carolina and his leadership as Speaker Pro Tem during an unprecedented time for the House of Representatives will leave a lasting impact on future generations," added Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.
McHenry’s announcement set off a reaction in North Carolina congressional campaigns.
In the adjoining 14th District covering portions of Charlotte, top Republican candidates have included current state House Speaker Tim Moore and Pat Harrigan, who was the district’s GOP nominee in 2022 when the district leaned Democratic. Redistricting this fall flipped the 14th District to one favorable for Republicans.
Harrigan, a former Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, said soon after McHenry's announcement that he would run for the 10th seat being vacated by McHenry. This in turn could help clear the field for Moore on the way to the GOP nomination in the 14th.
Addressing the future of the House in light of departures from the chamber like himself, McHenry said Tuesday that “those concerns are exaggerated.”
“Evolutions are often lumpy and disjointed but at each stage, new leaders emerge,” he added. “There are many smart and capable members who remain, and others are on their way. I’m confident the House is in good hands.”
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.