By Mike DeBonis,
Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican who is among the most conservative members of the House, said Thursday he would resign his seat in a statement where he acknowledged discussing surrogacy with two former female subordinates.
Franks’s announcement came as the House Ethics Committee said it would create a special subcommittee to investigate Franks for conduct “that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment.”
His resignation, which Franks said is effective Jan. 31, will end the ethics investigation.
Franks said in his statement that the investigation concerns his “discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable.” He denied ever having “physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”
“However, I do want to take full and personal responsibility for the ways I have broached a topic that, unbeknownst to me until very recently, made certain individuals uncomfortable,” Franks said, adding, “I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”
Leaving the House floor Thursday, Franks did not confirm or deny plans to resign, telling reporters that he would put out a statement later in the day.
While Franks was on the floor Thursday voting on a stopgap funding bill and other measures, he appeared to be consoled by a number of fellow Republicans. At one point, Franks and four colleagues locked arms and bowed their heads in an apparent prayer.
Franks has served in the House since 2003 and is known as a fierce opponent of legal abortion, recently sponsoring a bill banning abortions after 20-week gestation that passed the House. He is also an outspoken critic of the Senate’s filibuster rule, blaming it for blocking conservative bills.
Franks is also a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a hard-right faction that has often clashed with Republican leaders.
He considered a run for Senate in 2012, dropping out suddenly in a manner that fueled speculation in Arizona political circles about a potential issues with his personal life. But no revelations were aired in the aftermath of the decision, and Franks continued as chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Franks said he was compelled to resign after concluding that he would be unable to endure the ethics probe “before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation.”
“Rather than allow a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most, this morning I notified House leadership that I will be leaving Congress as of January 31st, 2018,” he said. “It is with the greatest sadness, that for the sake of the causes I deeply love, I must now step back from the battle I have spent over three decades fighting.”
Arizona’s 8th congressional district, which stretches northwest of Phoenix, has a 13-point Republican lean, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. President Trump outpolled Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the district by 21 points last year, while Franks beat his Democratic opponent by 50 points.
Under Arizona state law, a special election must be called if there is a vacancy more than six months prior to a regularly scheduled election.
Names of potential successors include Kimberly Yee, a state representative currently running for state treasurer, and Phil Lovas, a former state representative, according to multiple Arizona GOP operatives.
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this article.