WASHINGTON (AP) — Embattled U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on Saturday abandoned his bid to remain as House majority leader, clearing the way for end-of-the-month leadership elections among Republicans eager to shed the taint of scandal.
In a letter to rank-and-file Republicans, DeLay said, "I have always acted in an ethical manner."
At the same time, "I cannot allow our adversaries to divide and distract our attention," the Texas Republican from Sugar Land wrote.
DeLay is battling campaign finance charges in Texas and was forced to step aside temporarily as majority leader last fall after he was charged in his home state. He has been trying to clear his name and, until Saturday, resume his leadership role.
In a separate letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert, DeLay said he intends to seek re-election to his House seat in November "while I work to clear my name of the baseless charges leveled against me."
DeLay's about-face came amid growing pressure from fellow Republicans who were concerned about their own political futures in the wake of this past week's guilty pleas by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
DeLay's defiant, take-no-prisoners style had won him the admiration and respect of fellow Republicans, but his mounting problems cast a shadow over the entire House.
Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, the GOP whip who temporarily has filled in for DeLay, was expected to run for majority leader. Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, a former member of the leadership, is also likely to seek the job.
Elections are likely the week of Jan. 30, when lawmakers return to the Capitol.
DeLay acted hours after a small vanguard of Republicans circulated a petition calling for leadership elections and citing DeLay's legal problems as well as his long ties to Abramoff.
Text of a letter Saturday from U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) to fellow House Republicans about his decision not to seek to return to his post as majority leader:
Today, I have asked Speaker Hastert to convene our conference for the purpose of electing a new majority leader, the position I have been honored to fill these past three years through the trust and confidence of our colleagues.
During my time in Congress, I have always acted in an ethical manner within the rules of our body and the laws of our land. I am fully confident time will bear this out.
However, we live in serious times and the United States House of Representatives must be focused on the job of protecting our nation and meeting the daily challenges facing the American people.
History has proven that when House Republicans are united and focused, success follows.
While we wage these important battles, I cannot allow our adversaries to divide and distract our attention. I will continue to stand up for the issues I care so deeply about and work with you all on these priorities. I am constantly thankful for the support of my constituents in recent days as well as over the years they have allowed me to serve them. I will continue to work every day to fulfill their trust, and yours.