Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy’s startling downfall unrolled quickly but quietly on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON — It was quiet on Capitol Hill Thursday. Mention of Tim Murphy’s name resulted in silence, an uncomfortable conversation or a careful statement.

Paul Ryan’s spokeswoman? She wouldn’t discuss details of the House speaker’s meeting with the Republican congressman the day before. Mr. Murphy’s GOP colleagues from Pennsylvania? They weren’t budging much, even with Mr. Murphy’s face inches behind them on the front pages of House chamber newspapers. Mr. Murphy’s office staffers? Nothing much to say.

And then, it happened.

Just as the work day was winding down, a short statement from Mr. Ryan lit up the cell phones of staffers and lawmakers across the Hill: Mr. Murphy wasn’t retiring, or waiting until the end of his term to give up his seat. Instead, he would resign effective Oct. 21, indicated by a letter he sent to the speaker that afternoon.

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The short statement capped off a day of ominous ambiguity in Washington, fueled by a decision that was made behind closed doors less than 24 hours after Mr. Murphy announced he would not seek re-election.

There was little indication the news was coming. A handful of staffers worked through the day at Mr. Murphy’s third-floor office at the Rayburn House Office Building, while the Upper St. Clair representative began a leave of absence to take “personal time” with his family. Capitol Hill had been abuzz earlier in the week about Mr. Murphy’s political future after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on documents that indicated problems in his office — and text messages that suggest he urged a woman with whom he was having an extra-marital relationship to get an abortion.

The leave of absence kept Mr. Murphy away from the House’s vote Thursday to authorize a $4.1 trillion budget for fiscal year 2018. Outside the chambers, Rep. Ryan Costello, one of Mr. Murphy’s colleagues in the Pennsylvania Republican delegation, offered very little about his fellow congressman’s plans to retire. “I wish him well in retirement,” he said, adding that he thought Mr. Murphy had made the right decision. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina who chairs the House’s conservative Freedom Caucus, said Mr. Murphy’s plans to retire were “his personal decision based on his personal life.”

In the early afternoon, Carly Atchison, the congressman’s communications director, wouldn’t say if her boss was in D.C. or back in Pittsburgh — or elsewhere. Ms. Atchison said only that “once he is ready to weigh in, he will.” At times, staffers poked their heads out of the office’s wooden double-doors to glance down the long hallway, where lawmakers typically roam in and out of their quarters to various meetings and votes.

It was at that point in the afternoon that Mr. Murphy was reportedly sending in his resignation to Mr. Ryan, indicating that he would “move on to the next chapter of his life,” Mr. Ryan’s statement said.

Readers of the Post-Gazette said they had seen Mr. Murphy’s car behind his Pittsburgh office on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon. But the front door was locked, and two women who opened the door when a reporter approached said they had no comment.

Once Mr. Ryan announced Mr. Murphy’s resignation, details of what proceeded were scant. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Mr. Ryan, said he wouldn’t discuss any particulars.

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“All I can confirm is that the speaker talked to Mr Murphy multiple times this week,” Mr. Buck wrote in an email.

As social media widely reacted to the announcement, Republicans in the House continued to be tight-lipped. Of 226 Twitter accounts affiliated with House Republicans, none posted about Mr. Murphy. Reps. Lloyd Smucker, a Republican and Mike Doyle, a Democrat, posted about tax reform and the federal budget.

A post-announcement visit to Mr. Murphy’s D.C. office unearthed more silence. A staffer said there wouldn’t be a press conference. There wasn’t a statement from the congressman — only what had come from the speaker.

An email to his spokeswoman was kicked back with a note that said she would be out of the office until Oct. 10, and included the text of Mr. Ryan’s statement.

Julian Routh: jrouth@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1952, Twitter @julianrouth.

Correction, posted Oct. 6, 2017: In an earlier version of this story Mike Doyle’s political party was misstated. He is a democrat.

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