Forceful Advocate of Conservative Causes Is Leaving Congress

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

(1st Add: Includes comments from House Speaker Dennis Hastert.)

( - The official announcement is expected later today, but on Monday, Rep. Tom DeLay let it be known that he will resign from Congress "sometime before mid-June," ending a legislative career that began in 1984.

In a videotape DeLay released to television stations, he said, "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. 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."

The former House majority leader told the Galveston County Daily News he based his decision partly on polls showing him in a close race with his Democratic challenger in the midterm election.

"This had become a referendum on me," DeLay told Time magazine on Monday. "So it's better for me to step aside and let it be a referendum on ideas, Republican values and what's important for this district."

But a report posted on the Washington Post website Tuesday described DeLay as "succumbing to scandal."

A Texas grand jury -- one of several called to hear the evidence against him -- finally indicted DeLay last year on conspiracy and money laundering charges stemming from campaign fund-raising technicalities. A Texas judge later threw out the conspiracy charge.

As House rules require, DeLay stepped down from his majority leader post because of the indictment. But all along, DeLay and his supporters denied he did anything wrong. They said that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, is pursuing the case for political reasons.

"These charges have no basis in the facts or the law. This is just another example of Ronnie Earle misusing his office for partisan vendettas," DeLay's spokesperson Kevin Madden said when DeLay was indicted last September.

On Friday, DeLay's former senior staffer Tony Rudy pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring with lobbyist Jack Abramoff to corrupt public officials. He was the second former DeLay staffer to plead guilty in a federal corruption probe.

Abramoff himself pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and fraud in January, and he is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in a corruption and bribery investigation targeting members of Congress and their staffers.

DeLay once was quoted as calling Abramoff "one of my closest and dearest friends."

Abramoff has not publicly accused DeLay of corruption, nor has his former aide Rudy. But the congressman's close ties to those two men has given Democrats all the political ammunition they need.

The Democratic National Committee issued its response to the departure of the "scandal-plagued" congressman around midnight on Monday:

"Tom DeLay's announcement is just the beginning of the reckoning of the Republican culture of corruption that has gripped Washington for too long," said DNC Communications Director Karen Finney.

"From DeLay, to Scooter Libby, to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, to Duke Cunningham, to Bob Ney, to David Safavian -- the list goes on and on. Make no mistake, this fall the American people are going to have a clear choice between Democrats who offer a bold vision based on honest leadership and real security, and Republicans who can only offer more of the same Republican culture of corruption and incompetence."

DeLay apparently made up his mind to drop out of the race very recently. Over the weekend, columnist Robert Novak reported that Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky would host a "special re-election fund-raising dinner" for DeLay in Washington on Tuesday.

Instead, it looks like DeLay will be in Houston on Tuesday, where he reportedly plans to hold a news conference to officially announce his resignation.

Conservatives say DeLay has been targeted for his strong defense of family values. He is credited with moving the conservative agenda through the House - something that put a target on his back, a Republican lawmaker once said.

DeLay served over the last 11 years as "a most effective Majority Whip and Majority Leader for our Conference," House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said.

"As the Speaker of the House, I have been thankful for his assistance in leading the House Republican Conference and helping to pass historic legislation, like successful Medicare reform, tax relief and trade legislation that opened new markets to American products and ideals," Hastert said in a statement.

"Because of his efforts, we have restored our national defense, strengthened the economy, created jobs for our workers and improved the lives of thousands of American families," Hastert said.

DeLay "embodies the term steadfast and perseveres through even the toughest attacks on Republican ideals and principles," Hastert said. Despite DeLay's decision, the GOP "will continue to move forward with an aggressive agenda on behalf of the American people," Hastert added.

The House plans to work on a budget resolution this week, Hastert said, which will lay out a blueprint of spending priorities in the year ahead and keep the promise to be responsible with taxpayers dollars.

DeLay on Monday was quoted as saying that he will continue to pursue the conservative agenda from the outside, but he did not say exactly how he will do that.

See Earlier Stories:
Former Lobbyist Will Name Names in Capitol Hill Corruption Probe (Jan. 4, 2006)
Dems Complain About DeLay's Smiling Mug Shot (Oct. 21, 2005)
DeLay 'Charged for Defeating Democrats,' He Says (Oct. 21, 2005)
Conservatives Defend DeLay (Sept. 29, 2005)

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.