Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi will not run for reelection next year, the four-term Republican senator said on Saturday.
The 75-year-old Senate Budget Committee chairman announced his retirement in Gillette, Wyo., where he used to be mayor. The low-key Wyomingite said he wants to focus on budget reform.
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“I don’t want to be burdened by the distractions of another campaign,” Enzi said, according to the Casper Tribune.
Senate Republicans have been closely watching Enzi, figuring he may decide to call it quits after 24 years in the Senate, but most were unaware of his weekend plans. Enzi’s office did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday morning ahead of the announcement.
Enzi is among the least flashy personalities in the Capitol. He often literally keeps his head down, immersed in either thought or reading, typically wielding an e-reader device.
He frequently ignores reporters to go about his day, which is likely focused on cutting spending and balancing the budget. He posts often about the “penny plan,” which would reduce spending by 1 percent each year. Enzi is term-limited from serving as budget chairman after next year.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who threatened Enzi with a primary challenge in 2014, praised him on Saturday for “fighting for a smaller, less obstructive, and more efficient federal government that would allow people to grow and thrive.” Her statement did not address whether she will run to succeed Enzi.
The Senate field is likely to be frozen until Cheney — already a statewide elected official — makes a decision. What she decides to do has outsized impact on House Republican politics, as well. If she runs for the Senate, it will remove a potential threat to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). If she decides to stay in the House, it’s a sign she is interested in moving up in House Republican leadership in the coming years.
Enzi’s seat is highly likely to remain in Republican hands. Speculation on his replacement will center on Cheney, who eventually backed off challenging Enzi 2014. Former Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead would also be a formidable candidate. If neither runs, the state’s Republicans could be looking at a crowded primary for the safe GOP seat.
Enzi’s only whiff of recent controversy was a 2017 comment, in which he observed: “I know a guy that wears a tutu and goes to the bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it a little bit.” He quickly apologized.
While a fiscal conservative, Enzi has taken a couple of positions that defied conservative orthodoxy. He supported legislation that would allow states to charge a sales tax that divided Republicans and also has backed raising the federal gas tax in the past.
But Enzi has been a reliable Republican vote and almost never challenges party leaders publicly. He beat out former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for the Budget Committee chairmanship in 2014.
“Mike Enzi’s character, courage and credibility have made him a respected moral leader in the U.S. Senate. In four terms in the Senate he has never wavered in his commitment to God, family or Wyoming,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 GOP leader, who is now in line to be the senior senator from the state.
Gale McGee was the last Democrat to represent Wyoming in the Senate. He retired in 1976.
Jake Sherman contributed to this report