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Saturday, June 15, 2019 1:00 am

Brooks, recruiter of GOP women, to retire from House

Colby Itkowitz | Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Rep. Susan Brooks, the head of House Republicans' recruitment, who had prioritized mobilizing GOP women to run for office after significant losses in 2018, said Friday that she won't seek reelection.

The Indiana congresswoman, one of only 13 women in the House GOP caucus, stunned colleagues and party leaders when she announced plans to retire after four terms in a letter to supporters and in an interview with the Indianapolis Star.

A Fort Wayne native and Homestead High School graduate, Brooks, 58, told supporters in the letter, obtained by The Washington Post, that she was stepping down to spend more time with her family, including her grown children and aging parents.

“There will be much, MUCH, conjecture about my decision. I've made a lot of career changes, but none with the kind of public scrutiny this will attract,” she wrote. “The pressure to be everywhere and speak to every issue and event is immense – it is a part of the job that is difficult to turn off. So I salute those who spend decades running, winning, and serving.”

With Brooks's planned departure and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the House GOP conference chairwoman, mulling a run for the Senate, Republicans face an even greater challenge to shore up their female contingent after losing half of its members in the last election. The House is the most female ever, but 89 of the 102 seats are held by Democratic women, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

The numbers reflect not only the GOP struggles to recruit female candidates but also the gender gap for the party, which has seen an erosion of support, especially in the suburbs.

In 2018, 59% of female voters picked Democrats compared with 40% who chose Republicans, according to exit polls.

Cam Savage, a political adviser to Brooks, said House GOP leaders were saddened by her decision but asked her to stay on as recruitment chair through 2020.

“She does feel an obligation to help improve Congress, and for her that means more women and women playing a greater leadership role, but she doesn't see an inconsistency with this decision,” Savage said.

Savage credits Brooks and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., with speaking openly about Republicans' problem recruiting women, both as candidates and as voters. According to data from Brooks, 172 GOP women are running for the House.

“When we look back, Susan's legacy will be that she played an instrumental role in leaving our new Republican majority far more diverse than it was when she found it,” said Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee. “Susan has assured me that she will be increasing her recruitment efforts, so we are full steam ahead.”

Brooks was elected in 2012, and Democrats placed her on their retirement watch list earlier this year. Though she won reelection by 14 percentage points, Democrats figured they had a chance in a district north of Indianapolis that included the kind of wealthy suburbs Democrats did well in last cycle. At the time, Republicans called the notion that Brooks could retire “laughable.”

Two of Indiana's Republican representatives praised Brooks.

“Susan Brooks is the best of the best in the Indiana delegation, and she will be missed in Congress,” said Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd. “As a mentor and friend, I have learned so much from her and appreciate all she has done to help me be a better representative. I wish Susan and her family well in their next chapter, but for now, I look forward to serving alongside Susan for the rest of this term.”

“Susan Brooks and I came to Congress together, and she's been not only a trusted colleague but a dear friend,” said Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd. “I'm grateful for her public service and her tireless work to advance commonsense solutions and support the next generation of leaders.”

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer said, “Congresswoman Susan Brooks' career is defined by service to Hoosiers. She's always listening and learning, and her astute focus on the issues facing Hoosiers in the 5th District has led her constituents to reelect her by big margins time and again, including by 14 points in 2018.”