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Congressman Paul Mitchell Refused To Be Defined By His President — Or His Party

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We want to take a moment now to remember Michigan lawmaker Paul Mitchell. Mitchell died Sunday after a diagnosis of renal cancer. Our co-host Audie Cornish has this remembrance.

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: When we first met Paul Mitchell, he was a freshman lawmaker...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Congratulations. You are all now members of the 115th Congress.

(APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: ...And a Republican.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL MITCHELL: My name is Paul Mitchell. I'm from Michigan's 10th congressional district, now the congressman from that district.

CORNISH: Mitchell had small, round, black-framed glasses and a firm handshake, and he was excited.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCHELL: I was the oldest of seven. I was the first of my extended family to even go to college, never mind graduate. And I was able to get to a point that I was CEO of a company. I helped people develop skills so they could go to work. And now, I'm a member of Congress. Only in America does that happen.

CORNISH: And back in 2017, Mitchell somehow hoped to stay out of the partisan fray.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCHELL: I didn't run for office based on a tweet from Donald Trump or anybody else. And I - my responsibility is to be effective for my constituents.

CORNISH: Yet he found he could not do what he had hoped in Washington. So in 2019, he announced he would not seek reelection and gave an emotional speech on the House floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCHELL: However, it appears to me that rhetoric overwhelms policy, and politics consumes much of the oxygen in this city. The time has come to make a difference for my family.

CORNISH: One of Paul Mitchell's final political acts came as his term was ending. Late last year, he asked the House clerk to change his designation from Republican to independent. He feared President Trump's denials around the election and GOP leaders' embrace of, quote, "unfounded conspiracy theories" would damage the nation. Former Congressman Paul Mitchell, independent from Michigan, died on Sunday. He was 64.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIPPIE SABOTAGE SONG, "OM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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