Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett laid to rest rumors he wasn’t seeking re-election in a bizarre press conference Thursday afternoon.
“There’s no way in heck I’m not going to be here in 2019,” the Republican lawmaker told a handful of print and TV reporters (and his Facebook followers on a livestream) from a Capitol Hill row house.
That was the news — that a freshman congressman from a potentially competitive district isn’t leaving after all. Politico first reported Wednesday that Garrett was considering not seeking re-election.
But it took Garrett a while to get the news out — on purpose. He used the press attention to beg for more coverage of a cause he’s working on.
The optics were more than unusual, with even Garrett’s official staff not seeming to know what was going on. The press conference, which was ultimately held at the headquarters of the National Indian Gaming Association, moved locations several times — the last time just minutes before its intended start.
Watch: Garrett Says He’s Running for Re-election in Winding Speech
West Virginia Rep. Alex X. Mooney, a fellow member of the Freedom Caucus, walked from the press conference’s previous location several blocks east to the gaming association, but he didn’t appear to stick around for Garrett’s remarks.
Garrett and his wife arrived hand-in-hand, smiling, and invited the press inside, even after reporters had originally been told they’d have to stay outside the building on the sidewalk in hopes of catching the congressman on the way way out. Once inside, Garrett decided he’d wait to begin until a podium could be found. But no luck.
Clutching several sheets of paper with handwritten notes, he said he took pride in not writing speeches. He then launched into a list of his accomplishments in the Virginia state Senate and in Congress so far.
“I’ll tell you one more thing before I get out of here,” Garrett said, when it was still unclear whether he was referring to getting out of Congress or out of the press conference.
His staff unveiled a large photo of former University of Virginia women’s basketball coach Joanne Boyle and her daughter, whom she’s been trying to adopt from Senegal. Garrett described Boyle’s difficulty in getting a U.S. visa for her daughter.
“Before I leave here, by God, that child is going to have a visa that allows her to be here, to be with the only family that she knows and the only home she has,” he said.
Garrett then began to reveal what Boyle’s saga had to do with why he was standing there in front of the national media.
“I didn’t want it to be this way,” he said. “I confided in some people yesterday, some thoughts that my wife and I were discussing, and 15 minutes later, I was getting texts from the press. God bless you guys — and I mean that, I’m not trying to be mean.”
Garrett was referring to news reports that he wasn’t seeking re-election.
“As we started to contemplate what to do next, I thought, hey, if they want to cover a story, I’m going to give them a story,” he said.
Waiting by the phone?
Garrett described giving a packet of information about Boyle’s case to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen when she came before a committee he sat on and asking her staff to look into the case.
“She said, ‘You have my word.’ And guess what? No phone call. For months,” he said.
Garrett said Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows had helped him try to get someone from the administration to call Boyle, to no avail.
“So before I leave here, this is going to get fixed. Please help me,” he pleaded with the press. “Please bring the pressure to bear that needs to be brought to bear.”
Garrett went on to complain about the political climate, including the use of “hyperbolic vitriol,” alluding to — without mentioning by name — former Democratic candidate Roger Dean Huffstetler, who withdrew before the nominating convention to take on Garrett in the 5th District.
“So yesterday — in frustration — I said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.’ In the last 24 hours, I’ve had the opportunity to think and pray a lot,” Garrett said, asserting that he’s not planning to leave Congress. Journalist and filmmaker Leslie Cockburn is the 5th District Democratic nominee.
Garrett confirmed that he parted ways with his chief of staff Jimmy Keady, but said the staffer wasn’t fired.
“He’s a fine man, it’s been a pleasure to be his friend and work with him, and sometimes in life, you decide to do different things,” the congressman said.