WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ohio Republican Rob Portman has spent the last 12 years in the U.S. Senate, another dozen years in the House of Representatives, and time in between as President George W. Bush’s U.S. Trade Representative and Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

What You Need To Know

  • As he retires from the U.S. Senate, Ohio Republican Rob Portman spoke with Spectrum News about his work to preserve democracy

  • Portman has become a leading voice in support of Ukraine throughout Russia’s invasion, visiting the country three times this year and meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

  • Portman also weighed in on the January 6th Committee, which released its final report on Thursday

  • The retiring lawmaker was also asked if he would serve in President Joe Biden’s administration, if asked

On Thursday, Portman cast his final vote as a senator before retiring from public office after three decades in Washington.

This year, he’s been a leading voice in supporting Ukraine. It’s the latest example of his longtime advocacy for democracy and freedom around the world.

Portman delivered 29 speeches on the Senate floor about Russia’s invasion and made three trips to Ukraine this year alone, meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy more than any other member of Congress.

In an interview with Spectrum News on Wednesday, Portman said it was Ohio’s prominent Ukrainian population that convinced him back in 2014 that Ukraine’s desire for democracy was worth advocating for.

“I think at that point, I realized this is kind of the quintessential fight for freedom here,” Portman said. 

Portman co-chairs the Senate Ukraine Caucus and has become a leading voice on Capitol Hill for the U.S. providing billions in aid to the Eastern European country.

When Zelenskyy visited the White House and spoke to Congress on Wednesday, he made a point to shake Portman’s hand on the House floor and meet with him in the Capitol.

In total, Portman has made 10 trips to Ukraine throughout his career. On top of that, he visited at least eight other countries in 2022 in his capacity as senator, and many others over his time in office.

“If you don’t go over there and see it firsthand, it’s very difficult to come back here and have the credibility to be able to argue for what I think we ought to be doing,” Portman said.

Portman’s retirement comes as Russia’s war nears the one-year mark and as the U.S. prepares to mark two years since the Capitol was attacked by supporters of President Donald Trump who were seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

As 2023 approaches, how would Portman rate the strength of democracy both here at home and around the world?

“I think it’s always under siege. I really do,” Portman said. “And I think we have to be cognizant of that. Here, we have a stronger tradition. We have incredible roots in our democracy, and I think in the end we’ll be fine.”

He later added: “In every generation, we have to go through this again, both here at home but certainly around the world, and encourage more democracy.”

While Portman worked with Trump on policy and voted against impeaching him twice, he often criticized Trump’s rhetoric and condemned the Capitol attack the night that it happened.

He said Jan. 6, 2021 needed to be marked as an event in contrast with America’s democratic traditions.

The January 6th Committee released its final report on Thursday. Portman said he has been paying attention to the panel’s investigation, even though he wishes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not block two Republicans from serving on the committee. (Democrats eventually appointed Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger to serve on the panel)

“It would’ve been a bipartisan process that would've had more credibility with the American people,” Portman said. “On the other hand, the testimony that they’ve gotten from individuals is what it is. And I think it’s a compelling record of that day that will be something that historians can review over time and be sure that we don’t forget that this sort of thing could actually happen here in this country.”

Portman is known on Capitol Hill as a policy wonk and straight shooter who seeks out compromise and has had nearly 200 bills signed into law while in the Senate.

He has played a direct role in some of President Joe Biden’s biggest legislative achievements, from infrastructure to same-sex marriage to computer chip manufacturing.

When Biden attended the September groundbreaking for an Intel computer chip factory in Ohio, he gave Portman a shout-out.

“I want to thank Rob Portman for being the gentleman and decent man that he is and for showing that Democrats and Republicans can work together to get big things done for our country,” Biden said.

Spectrum News asked Portman if he would be open to serving in the Biden administration in something like a diplomatic role, if the president asked.

“I don’t see that happening. I don’t think he’s going to choose me or any Republican, probably,” Portman said. “He hasn’t chosen to put any Republican in his cabinet, as you’ve noticed. But it is important, I think, that when you’re called to serve that you at least consider it very seriously.”

Portman is part of an exodus of like-minded Republicans, with a history of bipartisanship, who are leaving the Senate, from Missouri’s Roy Blunt to Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey.

Portman said he believes his brand of conservatism still has a place at home and abroad, even as politics becomes more partisan and confrontational.

“I really do. I really do,” Portman said. “I mean, forgetting me, I just think that traditional conservatism is something that people appreciate. Particularly the part of it that says you need to reach across the aisle, when you can, to find common ground.”

For now, Portman plans to spend more time back home in Ohio and continue advocating for Ukraine.