News · Press Release

DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos statement on NRCC Recruitment Chair Susan Brooks’ Retirement

Brooks was on the DCCC’s Retirement Watch List

“I’ve worked with Congresswoman Brooks and I wish her well in her retirement. However, in a party whose leadership continually marginalizes women’s voices, losing Congresswoman Brooks, who was working hard to recruit women to run for office, underscores the problem Washington Republicans have created for themselves. As the ranks of women in the House Republican caucus continues to shrink, it must be disappointing to lose such a strong advocate for Republican women. Furthermore, as the head of the NRCC’s entire recruitment effort across the country, Congresswoman Brooks’ retirement is the clearest evidence yet that Washington Republicans efforts to retake the majority are in a tailspin.

“Indiana’s 5th district has been a DCCC targeted district from the day we announced our offensive battlefield, and while Washington Republicans laughed at the idea Congresswoman Brooks would retire, we intend to compete for and win this district because we are not just going to defend our Democratic Majority, we are going to grow it.”


Rep. Susan Brooks easily won in 2018, but Democrats are already gearing up for 2020

Indianapolis Star | February 19, 2019

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put Brooks on its “2020 Republican Retirement Watch List,” and announced Tuesday that it is purchasing its first digital ads for Twitter targeting the congresswoman. The DCCC previously put Brooks on its list of 33 targeted seats in its 2020 strategy.


Brooks, who hasn’t responded to requests for comment, has previously said she remains optimistic that she could still make some meaningful legislative gains, even in the minority. For example, during the first week of Democratic control, the House passed one of Brooks’ bills on pandemic awareness.

Camille Gallo, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, criticized Democrats for their list.

“Democrats adding Susan Brooks to a retirement list is almost as laughable as their Green New Deal,” Gallo said. “Before Democrats try abolishing ICE, airplanes and individual freedoms, perhaps they should start by abolishing this asinine list.”


Exclusive: Indiana Republican Susan Brooks will not seek re-election to Congress

USA Today | June 14, 2019

WASHINGTON — Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks, one of only 13 Republican women in the House as well as the head of GOP recruitment for 2020, found someone she could not convince to run: herself.

The Carmel Republican will not seek a fifth term next year, she told USA TODAY.

“While it may not be time for the party, it’s time for me personally,” Brooks, 58, said in an exclusive interview. “This really is not about the party. It’s not about the politics. It’s just about, `How do I want to spend the next chapter of my life?'”

Although she doesn’t know yet what that next chapter will be, she knows she’s ready to slow down and spend more time with her family. And that means no more bids for Congress or any other elected office — including the position of governor that she sought in 2016.

For 2020, Democrats had put Brooks on their “retirement watch list.” They see her district, which includes the wealthy northern Indianapolis suburban areas, as potentially flippable as Republican support has eroded in some suburban areas under President Donald Trump.

But Brooks insists Indiana’s 5th District, which she carried by nearly 14 points as Republicans lost the House in November, will remain in GOP hands with or without her.

So is she leaving because it’s no fun being in the minority? Brooks points to legislation she’s been working on with Democrats, including a bill reauthorizing funding for health emergency programs that is awaiting the president’s signature.

Is she frustrated with the party’s support for female candidates after voters sent the lowest number of GOP women to the House in a quarter-century? Brooks said she feels good about the ongoing efforts to change that.

Is she dissatisfied with the leader of the party? Brooks said she has a “fine relationship” with Trump and an “outstanding relationship” with Vice President Mike Pence — her former law school classmate.

“Indiana is going to be very strong for the president and vice president in the 2020 cycle,” she said.

But Brooks gets that the optics are bad.

“There will be much, MUCH, conjecture about my decision,” Brooks wrote in a letter she’s sending to supporters Friday.

And she knows that because she’s not running, the party may want someone else to take over her recruitment position for the campaign arm of House Republicans.

“I have no idea what they’re going to do,” she said Thursday morning of party leaders’ response to the decision she had yet to share with them.

Brooks spoke in her studio apartment, a 15-minute walk from Capitol Hill, where she’d been voting since past midnight the night before. In addition to preparing herself emotionally for sharing her news, Brooks was also trying to find time to clean the apartment she’d offered for the weekend to visiting relatives of a House colleague.

The furnishings include a drop-leaf table that belonged to her grandmother, along with the bed and bookshelf from her daughter Jessica’s former college dorm. Above the corkboard filled with photos of family and friends that Jessica put together to make the place really look like a dorm room is a poster with this message: “If you follow all the rules, you miss all the fun.”

Visiting her son Conner last month in Alaska where he teaches, Brooks said, helped cement her decision not to miss out on more of the lives of her friends and family because of an inflexible schedule where “you’re never off the clock.” Her husband David, an Indianapolis attorney, is semi-retired.

“It’s a bit of a selfish decision. I appreciate that,” Brooks said. “But I also think what people need to appreciate is, once you enter elected office, it’s OK to walk away. It’s OK to break the rules and not stay in the game until you’re defeated or something bad happens in your career.”

Never part of the plan

It was never Brooks’ goal to be in Congress. Or to run for any office.

But after serving as deputy mayor of Indianapolis, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, and a top administrator at Ivy Tech Community College, Brooks was encouraged to challenge GOP Rep. Dan Burton in 2012. When Burton decided not to seek re-election, eight Republicans vied for the nomination, including former Rep. David McIntosh.

Brooks said she was backed by only one member of Congress: Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. And the photo that Brooks would display at some of her campaign events was not of herself, but of Cecil Murray Harden, the only Republican woman that Indiana had previously elected to the House, who left office in 1959.

Brooks won the primary — by just 1,010 votes ahead of McIntosh. Her elections since have never been close in the district that stretches northeast from Indianapolis through Hamilton County and includes Madison, Tipton and Grant counties. But her victory in November with 57% of the vote was her smallest general election performance.

Brooks’ first race caught the attention of veteran political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg, who said GOP leaders would be nuts not toutilize her skills.

“She’s personable, articulate and has a good head on her shoulders — exactly what the Republican Party needs,” Rothenberg wrote.

After being one of only a handful of freshmen to chair a subcommittee in 2013,Brooks was appointed to a special panel to investigate the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. And she was assigned to sit in judgment of her new colleagues as a member of the House Ethics Committee, an unenviable assignment that nonetheless showed that House leaders considered her trustworthy.

Brooks became the first woman from Indiana to chair a House committee when she took over the gavel of the ethics panel in 2017 and 2018. She saw the work as helping fulfill a campaign promise to restore public confidence in Congress.

Even before the #MeToo movement took off, Brooks was working on sexual harassment issues, including putting together an online training video after a House member was caught on video kissing an aide. Under her watch, the committee investigated sexual misconduct allegations against multiple aides and members — including a fellow committee member. And Congress agreed at the end of last year on new rules for handling complaints, including making lawmakers financially liable for sexual harassment settlements.

“It was a very difficult and a very busy time,” she said.

Brooks has also kept busy on policy issues. Successful bills on which she played a major role included legislation responding to the sex abuse scandal involving USA Gymnastics uncovered by IndyStar, establishing the Landmark for Peace Memorial in Indianapolis as part of the African American Civil Rights Network, and creating a task force to review opioid prescribing practices.

One of her best days in Congress was when Trump signed into law her bill to improve mental health services for those in law enforcement.

One of her worst days was May 25, 2018, when a 13-year-old shot a teacher and classmate at Noblesville West Middle School. Just the week before, Brooks had spoken out at a closed-door meeting of the Republican conference, saying: “We have got to do more on school safety and keeping our kids safe in our schools.”

Brooks hasn’t crossed party lines to support gun control legislation being pushed by Democrats. She is working with Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., on a bill encouraging states to adopt “red flag” laws that allow authorities to remove guns temporarily from those considered a risk to others or themselves.

Brooks’ legislative work ranked her among the top 15% of House Republicans in effectiveness in the last Congress, according to the Center for Effective Lawmaking, a nonpartisan effort directed by two political scientists.

Brooks, a past co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, credits some of her accomplishments to her collaboration with others — including Democrats. She also belongs to both the Republican Study Committee — a group of conservative lawmakers — and to the moderate Main Street Partnership.

She’s broken with fellow Republicans on a few big issues, including when she voted in 2013 to end a partial government shutdown and avoid a default on the national debt. More recently, Brooks was one of only eight House Republicans to vote in May for a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

When Brooks was asked by Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, to take charge of recruiting candidates to help the party retake the House, Brooks said she told him that she hadn’t yet decided if she was going to run again.

But she had been outspoken about the party’s need to do better in suburban and urban areas, and to make the caucus less white and male. Brooks said she’s pleased with the diversity of the recruits so far. An Associated Press tally in early May, however, found that only around 1 in 5 declared Republican House challengers were women compared with nearly 2 in 4 declared House Democratic challenges.

One of the candidates Brooks helped convince to run is Oklahoma state Sen. Stephanie Bice, who is running for the GOP nomination to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn. Even if she won the seat, Bice wondered, would she be able to get things done in Washington the way she felt she’s been effective in Oklahoma?

“We had a really good conversation around what those accomplishments can look like,” Bice said of her discussion with Brooks earlier this year. “That conversation very much changed my mindset about the impact you can have.”

What’s next

Even if party leaders decide it’s better for someone else to take over recruitment, Brooks said, she will continue to help because she’s realized how much she loves the coaching, mentoring and recruiting.

“In fact,” the daughter of a football coach said, “I might be a better coach than a player on a team.”

Borrowing a phrase from her daughter’s soccer days, Brooks said she plans to “play like her hair’s on fire” for the rest of her term. One focus is her work on a special committee created this year to “modernize” Congress. Issues they’re tackling include scheduling, staff retention, staff diversity, transparency, social media and avoiding government shutdowns. She’s been reading “Strengthening Congress,” a book by former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat who co-chaired the last committee formed to update Congress — in 1993.

“I like finding positive things to work on,” she said.

Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, stores pens in a mug from her time as deputy mayor of Indianapolis, next to a note from her daughter, Jess, and a bulletin board of family photos in her Washington D.C. apartment on June 13, 2019.

Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, stores pens in a mug from her time as deputy mayor of Indianapolis, next to a note from her daughter, Jess, and a bulletin board of family photos in her Washington D.C. apartment on June 13, 2019. (Photo: Hannah Gaber, USAT)

Brooks passed up a chance to run for the Senate in 2016, after Dan Coats announced his retirement. And the party chose Eric Holcomb over Brooks to replace Pence on the 2016 gubernatorial ticket when Pence became Trump’s running mate.

Brooks said she’s no longer interested in running for governor — or any other elected office — even as she will continue to encourage others, including with her political action committee through which she’s prioritized supporting female candidates.

“I will remain involved,” she said. “I’m looking forward to who knows what. I don’t have plan for what’s next.”

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