SANDY, Utah — As Utah Republicans met for their annual state convention Saturday, the party faithful both gave Rep. Jason Chaffetz a warm send-off and occasionally expressed disappointment at his abrupt departure from Congress and key role investigating the White House.
Chaffetz, known for his hard-charging investigations of Hillary Clinton and his frequent appearances on cable news, announced Thursday that he was resigning June 30, just as his committee was poised to investigate President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey.
The five-term, 50-year-old congressman described the decision as a reaction to a midlife crisis and desire to spend more time with his family.
The move shocked political junkies in Washington, where Chaffetz’s profile was soaring, but also those back in Utah like Dianne Carr.
A retired registered dietitian from Springville, Utah, Carr just voted Chaffetz into a new term in last November and said his early departure was “a little inappropriate.”
“He really probably should step forth and tell us what’s going on. I mean, I first thought he was probably going to run for senator, but the other rumor is he’s going to be on Fox News. He’s been on it a lot,” she said at the convention in Sandy, Utah.
Chaffetz has declined to say what his next move will be but has said in the past he’s interested in running for Utah governor — an office that isn’t up for election until 2020.
Carr said a February town hall meeting where Chaffetz was drowned out by boos of those demanding he investigate Trump was “really nasty,” but “he doesn’t seem like the guy who would go out because of that. He’s a pretty tough guy.”
Chaffetz appeared briefly at the event Saturday, watching in the wings as the party played a video tribute to him that included clips of the congressman issuing subpoenas as House oversight chairman and leg wrestling on the floor with comedian Stephen Colbert in a bit for Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.”
The congressman, recovering from a recent foot surgery, used a scooter to make his way to the stage, where the crowed greeted him with a standing ovation. Standing in front of a large American flag with his wife at his side, he gave an emotional goodbye speech.
“When I go after something, I go after it with everything I can possibly go with. But there does come that point when you’ve got to make some choices,” Chaffetz said, with his voice catching a bit. “In my hierarchy of needs, the thing that really matters the most is my family.”
Chaffetz said one of his greatest achievements was using his oversight role to help expose scandals with Clinton’s email, the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi and the Secret Service — a list of investigations that drew applause from the audience.
Earlier in the day, as Republicans representing all corners of Utah mingled with politicians at campaign booths decked in banners, Chaffetz’s booth in the center of the room was strikingly bare, with the politician himself missing most of the morning. Several members of his staff gave away hundreds of leftover Chaffetz T-shirts, buttons, fleece vests and other gear left over from past campaigns.
“I wish he would stay,” Brent Holdaway, a 64-year-old trucking company owner from Pleasant Grove, told the staffers as he picked up a Chaffetz campaign shirt.
Holdaway voted for Chaffetz but says he would have liked to see the congressman investigate Clinton further and stay in office a little longer.
“For him to pull out is a disappointment. But I understand he’s got a life,” Holdaway said.
Lisa Morrise, a 59-year-old patient advocate from Salt Lake City, said she believes Chaffetz when he says his decision is all about his family.
“I understand the need to put family first. There are just times when that becomes important,” Morrise said. “I’m very disappointed, though, that any of our representatives would leave in the middle of their term.”
Zeb Dalton, a rancher from Blanding, in southern Utah, said he appreciates Chaffetz’s efforts to fight Utah’s new Bears Ears National Monument, which envelops land where Dalton runs his cattle.
“I wish he would stay,” Dalton said. “I don’t know all of his reasons, but he’s done a good job.”
Still, Dalton said that if Chaffetz runs for office again, he’s support him, but “I would want a commitment from him to finish out his term.”