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Ron DeSantis resigns from Congress to focus on campaign for governor

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U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on June 28, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis submitted a resignation letter on Monday to Speaker Paul Ryan, saying it was "effective immediately."

"As the Republican nominee for Governor of Florida, it is clear to me that I will likely miss the vast majority of our remaining session days for this Congress," he wrote. "Under these circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to accept a salary."

The letter asks that the resignation be retroactive to Sept. 1 so DeSantis is not paid for the month of September.

DeSantis was on his third term in Congress. Absent this resignation, DeSantis could have remained in office until the date his successor was sworn in, which will be on Jan. 3, 2019 — just days before Florida's next governor will take office on January 8.

 The decision is consistent with DeSantis' strict ideology about Congress, as he declined his pension and health care plan shortly after he was elected. However, it could also indicate that he is feeling pressure from the Andrew Gillum campaign.

Democrats pounced on the news, alleging that it was timed intentionally to "distract" from a Sunday night report from The Washington Post revealing DeSantis had spoken at a racially charged conference four times. A spokeswoman for his Congressional office has said he is not "responsible for the views and speeches of others."

"Ron DeSantis' entire political career has been about helping one person: Ron DeSantis," Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo wrote in a statement. "Ron DeSantis can abandon his post, but he can't avoid questions about why he chose to associate himself with hateful, fringe organizations."

Geoff Burgan, spokesman for Andrew Gillum's campaign, referenced the Times/Herald to the party's statement and declined to comment further.

During his three terms, DeSantis had a very low absentee rate for most of his tenure representing the Palm Coast area. However, GovTrack, which tracks Congressional votes, shows that he has missed 53.8 percent of his votes July to September, a considerable spike.

DeSantis was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of the most right wing members, and has been one of Congress' loudest voices against the special counsel investigating Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who has stumped with DeSantis and is one of his closest allies in Congress, said he feels like "Robin without Batman." He added that he spoke to DeSantis this morning about his resignation, but otherwise had no insight into why DeSantis chose Monday to submit his letter.

"While Ron ran in the primary he was running against someone who had a government job who spent every day campaigning ... He felt like it would have been hypocritical for doing what he criticized Adam Putnam for," Gaetz said.

DeSantis traveled back and forth from Washington to Florida while the House was in session.

"Based on what I've been reading about Andrew Gillum, serving taxpayers over self may be foreign concept," Gaetz added.

DeSantis' absence from Congress comes three weeks before lawmakers must pass a spending package to keep the federal government running past September 30. DeSantis has typically bucked GOP leadership to vote down the proposals amid concerns about federal spending.

READ MORE: Defending Trump, threatening shutdowns: What 5 years in Congress tell us about Ron DeSantis.

Trump has hinted at a government shutdown in October, though congressional Republicans are expected to at least pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government running during campaign season.

With today's news, there are now six vacant seats in U.S. House, whose constituents will likely have no representative until after the November election.

Running to take over DeSantis' potentially vulnerable seat is Republican Mike Waltz, who bears many similarities to DeSantis as a former Green Beret, adviser to Dick Cheney, and Fox News contributor. The Democrat have fielded Nancy Soderberg, a former ambassador to the United Nations and deputy national security adviser to President Bill Clinton who easily won her primary. 

This story will be updated.

Miami Herald Washington correspondent Alex Daugherty contributed.

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