U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., made it official Monday, announcing to a hometown crowd in the Lehigh Valley that he won’t seek re-election in 2022, and won’t seek the Republican nomination for governor that year either — a move that blows the GOP gubernatorial field wide open.
During an appearance in Bethlehem on Monday morning, Toomey, 58, said his reasons for not seeking a third, six-year term in Washington were “not political, they are personal.” He said he plans to return to the private sector; has no firm plans for what he’ll do next, and plans to serve out the two, remaining years in his second term.
By the time he leaves office, Toomey said he’ll have spent 18 of the last 24 years in public office.
“Eighteen years is a long time,” Toomey observed, his wife Kris, and three children at his side. “In all of that time, our family has lived in Pennsylvania. That was the right decision for our family. I have spent as little time as I can in Washington. It still ends up being a lot of time away from home.
Toomey told journalists Monday that donors and supporters had been contacting about his plans for 2022 and had been offering to set up fundraisers and other events tied to a Senate re-election bid, or campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will be term-limited out of office that year, and Republican contenders already are lining up.
Toomey told journalists Monday that he thought it was only fair to donors and supporters that he be candid about his plans. An early announcement also would give other aspirants time to line up their own campaigns. He said there was no, single galvanizing reason for leaving.
Toomey won election to the Senate after a 2010 race which then-Republican U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter switched political parties to avoid the primary challenge. Specter lost in the primary, and Toomey defeated Democrat Joe Sestak in the general election.
Toomey eked out a narrow re-election win in 2016, when he was dogged by questions about whether he supported then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Toomey declined to publicly back Trump until he cast his own ballot, shortly before polls closed.
Asked Monday if he thought he could win statewide in 2022, despite mounting progressive opposition and a continued Democratic shift in the populous Philadelphia suburbs and a lurch to the populist right by his own party, Toomey told journalists that he didn’t want to sound overconfident but “If I decided to run, I would have won again.”
That seems a tall order. While Toomey has supported some White House policies in the past, notably 2018 Republican tax bill, he has broken with the Republican Party of Trump on such issues as gun-violence reduction and free trade.
Still, unlike 2016, Toomey isn’t being shy about his support for Trump.
“I support his campaign, I support his re-election,” Toomey said. “I look forward to what a GOP-controlled Senate and whatever configuration House can accomplish.”
While there have been no formal discussions with Trump’s re-election campaign, Toomey said he’s “open to however the campaign would like to use me.”
Before running for Senate, Toomey previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and then led the D.C.-based anti-tax group Club for Growth. While he adhered to a term-limits pledge during his House career, Toomey did not make a similar promise upon his election to the Senate. On Monday, however, he said he “always thought I’d just serve two terms.
Toomey was a key figure in writing the 2018 Republican tax bill. He also drew national spotlight for a gun-background check bill crafted with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, an effort that failed repeatedly to gain enough support to clear the Senate.
Toomey said he plans to stay busy over the next two years, and hopes to serve as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
He also said he believes that confirmation hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, should proceed despite the fact that Trump and two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — Republican Sens. Mike Lee, of Utah, and Thom Tillis, of North Carolina, also have tested positive for the disease.
“It has long been custom when the Senate and the White House are controlled by the same party, then nominees are confirmed, whether it’s a presidential year or not,” Toomey said.
That answer is a sharp pivot from 2016, when Toomey opposed President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, federal Judge Merrick Garland, when he argued that the pick should be left up to the next president.
Toomey said Monday that he believes Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will be able to conduct hearings safely, and that those hearings should proceed.