Blunt, 71, has been a mainstay in Washington politics and the Republican establishment for more than two decades. First elected to the House in the 1996 GOP wave, Blunt served as House Republican whip before jumping to the Senate.
In announcing his retirement, Blunt joins GOP Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Richard Burr of North Carolina, all of whom opted against seeking reelection in 2022. Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have yet to reveal their plans.
Blunt voted to acquit Trump in the former president’s most recent impeachment trial in the Senate but occasionally broke with the former president throughout his term. Blunt’s decision, combined with the other four senators not seeking reelection, could suggest a level of discomfort with the direction of the party, especially with Trump looming over the GOP’s future. But his retirement gives Trump’s wing of the party an opportunity to gain significant ground in the Senate.
Missouri is not likely to be a competitive state for Democrats on the Senate map next year — Trump won the state by 15 percentage points last year — though Blunt’s retirement is likely to set off a competitive primary battle to replace him and could give Democrats a chance to expand their 50-50 Senate majority.
The jockeying to replace Blunt is expected to begin in earnest. Just last week, Missouri’s scandal-plagued former Gov. Eric Greitens said he was “evaluating” whether to run for the seat in 2022. Other potential GOP candidates include Rep. Ann Wagner, Rep. Jason Smith, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, whose father, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, once held the state’s other Senate seat.
Ashcroft indicated in a statement that he is considering making a run for Blunt’s seat, writing: “It is imperative that Republicans take back the Senate in 2022.”
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, vowed that Republicans “will hold this seat” and said the Senate GOP campaign arm “will work tirelessly” to do so.
Blunt narrowly defeated Democrat Jason Kander in 2016, but Trump carried Missouri handily twice. Kander indicated on Monday that he will not run for the seat, saying he wants to stay focused on the veterans group he runs. “Love this work, don’t want a new job,” Kander said.
Scott Sifton, a former Democratic state senator, announced his candidacy last month. He was backed immediately by the only current statewide elected Democrat, state Auditor Nicole Galloway, who lost a race for governor last fall.
In a statement on Monday, Sifton said Blunt’s announcement “shows just how high the stakes are for Missouri families next year” and called the race “an opportunity to vote for better leadership.”
Former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who served for two terms in the Senate but was defeated in her bid for a third by Republican Josh Hawley, said Monday she won’t run for public office again.
On the GOP side, Greitens has already begun laying the groundwork as the pro-Trump, anti-Mitch McConnell candidate in the race. The former president and the Senate minority leader are at odds over the future of the GOP and the best way for the party to win back control of the Senate in 2022, with McConnell promising to back candidates regardless of their support for Trump, and the former president suggesting that McConnell should no longer lead Senate Republicans.
McConnell, for his part, said in a statement that Blunt’s retirement “will be a loss for the Republican conference and the entire Senate.”
“I’m very sorry he’ll be stepping away but am glad the country has two more years to keep benefiting from his talent,” McConnell said.
James Arkin contributed to this report.