WASHINGTON—Tom DeLay, once one of the most powerful and feared conservatives in the U.S. Congress, said Tuesday he is resigning from the House of Representatives in the wake of two criminal investigations that dimmed his prospects for re-election.
"The voters of the 22nd District of Texas deserve a campaign about the vital national issues that they care most about and that affect their lives every day, and not a campaign focused solely as a referendum on me," DeLay said in a statement.
He reflected Republican concerns that they could lose the seat in November, saying his love and loyalty to the party played a role in his decision, adding, "I refuse to allow the Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative campaign."
DeLay was known for his fund-raising prowess and a bare-knuckled political style that earned him the nickname "The Hammer." He was a key force in advancing the conservative agenda of President George W. Bush, a fellow Texan.
Bush said Tuesday that the Republican party will not suffer from DeLay's decision to resign.
"My own judgment is that our party will continue to succeed because we are the party of ideas," Bush told reporters at the White House.
DeLay called Bush on Monday and the two talked while the president was flying on Air Force One on his way back from Cincinnati, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Tuesday.
"The president thanked him for his service and all that he accomplished and wished him all the best," McClellan said. "Congressman DeLay has been a good ally whom the president has worked very closely with."
Delay, who turns 59 on Saturday, said he would make his resignation effective sometime before mid-June but contingent on the congressional calendar.
DeLay relinquished the majority leader position — the No. 2 post in the House — after being charged last year with participating in a scheme to illegally fund state legislative races in Texas. He decided in January against trying to get the leadership post back as an election-year corruption scandal staggered Republicans and emboldened minority Democrats.
More recently, former DeLay aide Tony Rudy said he had conspired with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others to corrupt public officials, and he promised to help the broad federal investigation of bribery and lobbying fraud that already has resulted in three convictions.
Neither Rudy, Abramoff nor anyone else connected with the investigation has publicly accused DeLay of breaking the law, but Rudy confessed that he had taken actions while working in the majorityleader's office that were illegal.
DeLay has consistently denied all wrong doing, and he vowed to win re-election, beating back challengers in the Republican party primary last month.
In a video statement made available to television news networks late Monday, DeLay blamed "liberal Democrats" for making his re-election campaign largely a negative one.
Democrats said DeLay's plans to stepped down marked more than the end to one man's career in Congress.
"Tom DeLay's decision to leave Congress is just the latest piece of evidence that the Republican Party is a party in disarray, a party out of ideas and out of energy," said Bill Burton, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
It was not clear Monday night whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry would call a special election to fill out the unexpired portion of DeLay's term, or whether the seat would remain vacant until it is filled in November.
Either way, DeLay's concern about the potential loss of a Houston-area seat long in Republican hands reflected a deeper worry among party strategists. After a dozen years in the majority, they face a strong challenge from Democrats this fall, at a time when Bush's public support is sagging, and when the Abramoff scandal has helped send congressional approval ratings tumbling.
Until scandal sent him to the sidelines, DeLay had held leadership posts since the Republicans won control of the House in a 1994 landslide. At first, he had to muscle his way to the table, defeating then-SpeakerNewt Gingrich's handpicked candidate to become whip.
But DeLay quickly established himself as a forceful presence and easily became majority leader when the spot opened up.
He supported tax cuts, limits on abortions, looser government regulation of business and other items on the conservative agenda, and he rarely backed down.
DeLay was the driving force behind President Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1999,weeksafter Republicans lost seats at the polls in a campaign in which they tried to make an issue of Clinton's personal behavior.
DeLay told Fox News he was "looking forward to being liberated outside the House, doing whatever I can to unify the conservative cause."
His successor as majority leader, John Boenher, said DeLay "has served our nation with integrity and honor."
— The Associated Press