- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) - Longtime Texas Rep. Sam Johnson announced Friday that he will retire at the end of his term.

Johnson, 86, was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and Korea before his election to Congress in 1990. He spent seven years as a prisoner of war in the notorious Hanoi Hilton but returned to his hometown of Plano to a hero’s welcome.

On Capitol Hill, the Republican has been a stalwart conservative as a fierce defender of gun rights, an opponent of tax increases, and a hawk on military matters. He attracted attention recently when he introduced legislation to curb Social Security benefits. He says he has been a “commonsense, conservative voice in Congress.”

Johnson has generally been a loyal vote for GOP leaders over the years, even as the ranks of House conservatives have become more combative. He backed the hard-won 2011 debt and budget deal negotiated by former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, but voted against the 2013 tax increases obtained by President Barack Obama after he won a second term.

Johnson has easily cruised to re-election in his strongly Republican district outside of Dallas, and his seat is likely to remain in GOP hands after the 2018 midterm elections.

Johnson has slowed in recent years and told supporters in a statement that “the Lord has made clear that the season of my life in Congress is coming to an end.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who served for years on the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee with Johnson, issued a statement calling him “the greatest living man I know.”

Added Ryan: “This is a man who, after serving in two wars and enduring seven years in the Hanoi Hilton, went right back to flying and ran for public office.”

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