Kansas GOP Senator Pat Roberts Announces Retirement

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 4: Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., arrives for the Senate Republican's policy lunch at the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Group

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) will retire at the end of his term, he announced on Friday ending a four-decade congressional career.

Roberts, 82, made his mark in Congress mostly in bipartisan work on agricultural issues. He’s currently the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, having chaired the House Agriculture Committee earlier in his career before moving to the upper chamber in the mid-1990s.

He has been deeply involved in a number of Farm Bill reauthorizations that often break down much more along geographic and special-interest divides than traditional party lines. He helped pass the latest Farm Bill reauthorization into law late last year, after voting against his own party chairman on the last version because it had too many subsidies for special interest crops grown in the South.

An acerbic personality with a sometimes sharp tongue, Roberts occasionally battled with members of his own party, and achieved bipartisan victories on issues like a law requiring labels on genetically modified foods. In recent years, he criticized President Trump’s trade wars for hurting farmers, and he fought the Trump administration’s efforts to cut crop insurance.

His voting record on non-agricultural issues has been steadily conservative, though he’s bucked party leaders occasionally on national security issues, his other main area of focus.

Roberts hails from a political family — his dad was Republican National Committee Chairman in the Eisenhower era. And he spent nearly his entire career in Congress, beginning work as a House aide in 1967 before first running for a House seat in 1980. That lifetime in Washington almost came back to bite him in 2014, his last reelection, when he needed national help to first ward off a tea party primary challenger and then hang on against independent candidate Greg Orman, who had Democrats’ backing.

It’s unclear who might step up to run for the seat. There’s been some buzz that current U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might run, but that seems unlikely so long as he remains in the administration and in Trump’s good graces. Reps. Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Ron Estes (R-KS) could run, as well as CPAC chair Matt Schlapp.

Democrats would have a very tough time winning this seat, but former gubernatorial and congressional candidate Paul Davis has a strong moderate track record and crossover appeal and could make things interesting if he runs. Orman, who fizzled out as an independent gubernatorial candidate in 2018 after nearly toppling Roberts in 2014, could run as well.

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