Republican Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House of Representatives’ fallen majority leader, withdrew on Tuesday from a re-election race he was in danger of losing due to scandals and said he would quit Congress by mid-June.
“It’s time for me to go do something else,” DeLay, who again denied any wrongdoing, told Fox News in a round of interviews a day after he privately advised President George W. Bush and House Republican leaders of his decision.
DeLay’s announcement came as a surprise, but a Republican leadership aide said he was “long expected to do the right thing for his party.” Republicans are trying to stave off what is expected to be a strong challenge by Democrats to recapture control of Congress in November elections.
Democrats have sought to make DeLay and Republican ethical scandals an issue in the effort, and Republicans shared DeLay’s hope that a new candidate in his district would give the party a better chance to keep the seat in November.
DeLay, 58, blamed politics for his woes, which have included an indictment in Texas on campaign-finance charges last year that forced him to resign as majority leader, and an expanding lobbying scandal in Washington that has ensnared two former aides.
Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle said despite DeLay’s decision to leave Congress, the charges against him in Texas remain. “DeLay’s ultimate fate will be decided by the public acting through a jury,” Earle said.
DeLay’s announcement came 12 years after he helped Republicans capture control of the House for the first time in 40 years.
“I am proud of the past. I am at peace with the present,” DeLay said in an address posted on his Web site.
“Because I care so deeply about this district and the people in it, I refuse to allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative, personal campaign,” DeLay said.
“So today, I am announcing my intention to resign my seat in the House,” said DeLay, adding he would leave by mid-June.
Top House Republicans, many of whom owe a political debt to DeLay, appeared together before TV cameras to praise him, but declined to take any questions.
Rep. John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who replaced DeLay as majority leader, told his weekly news conference earlier in the day, “I’m sorry that he’s leaving.”
Last month, DeLay beat three relatively unknown Texas Republican primary foes. But he faced what promised to be a tougher challenge in November from Democrat Nick Lampson, a former House member.
At the White House, Bush said of DeLay, “I wish him all the very best and I know he’s looking to the future.”
DeLay’s withdrawal underscored the problems faced by Bush’s fellow Republicans in the scandal-rocked Congress.
“Tom DeLay’s announcement is just the beginning of the reckoning of the Republican culture of corruption,” said Democratic Party spokeswoman Karen Finney.
First elected to the House in 1984, DeLay, nicknamed “The Hammer,” was rebuked by the House ethics committee on three separate matters in 2004 and stepped down as House majority leader in September after being indicted in Texas.
The second of two former DeLay aides pleaded guilty last week in the federal investigation surrounding convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Abramoff has also cooperated in the probe into whether members of Congress gave his clients favorable treatment in exchange for campaign contributions, Super Bowl tickets and other gifts.
DeLay said, “The Abramoff investigation has nothing to do with me.” He said, “I’ve never broken a law, nor the spirit of the law.”
(Additional reporting by Jeff Franks, Joanne Kenen, and Richard Cowan)
© Reuters 2006