U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, the former House GOP leader whose tactics earned him the nickname "the Hammer," said Tuesday he will resign from Congress and drop out of his re-election race to protect his seat from a Democratic victory.
DeLay is facing criminal charges in Texas and separately political fallout from his close association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"I refuse to allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative personal campaign," DeLay said in a video announcement Tuesday, a few hours after news broke of his decision.
Early Tuesday, DeLay emerged from his home in Sugar Land, Texas, greeting reporters and photographers but not responding to questions, according to The Associated Press.
"I'll see y'all later," DeLay said as he got into a waiting car and was driven away, the AP reported.
DeLay, 58, stepped down in September as House majority leader after he was indicted in Texas on charges he improperly steered corporate donations to state legislative candidates in 2002. DeLay has denied wrongdoing.
DeLay has not been linked to wrongdoing in the Abramoff probe, but two former staffers -- Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon -- have pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
DeLay has suffered politically from his association with Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges and has been cooperating with investigators looking into influence-peddling allegations on Capitol Hill.
DeLay had been expected to wage a vigorous fight in a House race against former Rep. Nick Lampson, a Democrat who lost his seat in an adjacent district in 2004.
"From Day One I have been running because this district needs a congressman who will make headlines for the right reasons ...," Lampson said in a statement reacting to DeLay's announcement. "No matter who I face in the general election, I am going to fight hard, and I am going to win."
Lampson's loss in 2004 came after DeLay and his allies pushed a controversial reapportionment plan through the Texas Legislature that made the Democrat's district more Republican.
DeLay said he is stepping down because he wanted the race in his Houston-area district to focus on the issues people care about -- "not a campaign focused solely as a referendum on me."
"My love for the Republican Party has played no small part in this decision," he said.
Democrats retaking Congress would be disastrous, he said.
However, a senior DeLay adviser said that the lawmaker "has just had enough" and that "the toll on his family has been too great."
In his statement Tuesday, DeLay said it was time to move on.
"After many weeks of personal, prayerful thinking and analysis, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to close this public service chapter of my life," DeLay said.
"It's time to begin opening new chapters and pursuing new opportunities to engage in the important cultural and political battles of our day from outside the arena of the United States House of Representatives," DeLay said.
"I have no regrets today and no doubt. I am proud of the past and I am at peace with the present and I'm excited about the future, which holds as always America's brightest days and mine, too. Thank you and may God bless you all. He has certainly blessed me."
DeLay said he will make his resignation effective sometime before mid-June but the timing will depend largely on the congressional calendar. Between now and then, he said, he will focus on legislative priorities for his district.
Republican congressional sources on Monday night said that DeLay was calling supporters and colleagues to tell them of his decision.
He also called President Bush on Monday, and the two talked while the president flew back from Cincinnati, Ohio, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
"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 told Time magazine he will change his legal residence to Virginia, which would make him ineligible to run for office in Texas and allow the party to pick a new nominee for the fall election. His resignation also would trigger a special election to fill the remaining months of his term.
In March, DeLay easily beat three challengers to win the GOP primary in Texas' 22nd District in Houston's southeast suburbs. It was his first electoral test since his indictment.
First elected to Congress in 1984, DeLay became House majority whip when Republicans took control of Congress in the 1994 elections. In that role, DeLay was responsible for securing votes for the leadership, which earned him the nickname "the Hammer."
After fellow Texan Dick Armey retired as majority leader in 2002, DeLay stepped into the position, the No. 2 post in the House. While popular with his GOP colleagues, he was a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats, especially after the House Ethics Committee admonished him three times.
DeLay and two associates are facing trial in Texas on a money-laundering charge for their alleged role in funneling $190,000 in corporate donations from a political action committee created by DeLay to Texas GOP legislative candidates in 2002.
The money was sent from the DeLay-affiliated PAC to the Republican National Committee in Washington, which then sent $190,000 back to Texas candidates.
Prosecutors charge the transfers were nothing more than a scheme to circumvent a Texas law banning corporate donations to political campaigns. But DeLay's attorneys have insisted the transfers were legal and that, even if they weren't, the congressman was not directly involved in making them.