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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Representative TOM DELAY (Former House Majority Leader; Republican, Texas): Today, I am announcing my intention to resign my seat in the house. I will make that resignation affective sometime before mid June.

INSKEEP: With those words, Tom DeLay declared an end to his career in congress. The former House majority leader released a videotaped statement earlier today. That announcement comes from a lawmaker who once defiantly said he would beat the investigations into his ethics.

Representative DELAY: I have done nothing unlawful, unethical, or, I might add, unprecedented.

INSKEEP: That was Tom Delay last year after a Texas grand jury indicted him. His office faced other investigations and just a few days ago, a former aide pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Until DeLay stepped aside from his leadership post, he was among the most important Republicans in Washington. He forced through so many pieces of legislation that he became known as The Hammer.

(Soundbite "If I Had A Hammer")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) …we've got a hammer, he hammers in the morning. He hammers in the evening, all over this land…

INSKEEP: People heard that song formed performed over dessert at a dinner less than a year ago, where influential conservatives gathered in Washington to honor DeLay. They also heard from DeLay himself.

Rep. DELAY: We have banned partial birth abortion, and written into federal law the protection of unborn children from attacks against their pregnant mothers. We have reasserted the constitutional role of Congress and of the courts in interpreting our laws. We have reaffirmed both the indispensable role of faith in our society and the definition of marriage as a sacred bond between one man and one woman, period.

INSKEEP: Tom DeLay's ethical problems were well known when he made that speech, and they soon became a major focus for Democrats who were campaigning to take over the House this year.

We're going to talk about all those aspects of this story in this part of the program, and we begin with NPR's Andrea Seabrook. She's been reporting on the former majority leader for the last several years, and she joins us now. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA SEABROOK, reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Now, what have you learned about Tom DeLay's announcement?

SEABROOK: Well, he's telling President Bush and his House Republican colleagues that the reason he's resigning his House seat, is because he doesn't think he'd be able to win his reelection campaign this fall. And it's pretty shocking at this point, because Tom DeLay has never put forward any attitude—any face, other than one of complete certainty that he would be absolved of any and all allegations against him, as you heard from the tape you played, and win his reelection to the House in the fall. So, it's a shocker this morning.

INSKEEP: In fact, he was just—a few weeks ago—campaigning very hard to win a primary to keep his seat.

SEABROOK: And he won that four-way Republican primary, with 62 percent of the vote. But of course, that doesn't mean that he would easily win against a Democrat later this year, and he has some formidable opponents in that race: a Democrat and an Independent. But you know, even this doesn't quite match up with what we know about DeLay, and the fact that he knew that challenge—even before he ran for that primary, and for the last several months.

INSKEEP: Okay, so what brought this on?

SEABROOK: Well that's the question. The announcement comes, you know, just a few days after the federal bribery investigation into convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the investigation into others reached another tentacle into DeLay's own office. His former chief of staff and press secretary Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty on Friday to seeking and accepting gifts from lobbyists in return for getting Tom DeLay to vote in certain ways on bills. And though the court documents released Friday, outline a pretty shocking racket being run out of DeLay's congressional office, they don't implicate DeLay himself.

But, Rudy told the court that, what was in the document was not all he knew about every single person, about illegal activity in the office, and that he knew more. And every indication is that this investigation is only going deeper into the office with Tom DeLay at the center.

INSKEEP: I want to ask what this means for the House of Representatives—to be without Tom DeLay—who's been so dominant for so long?

SEABROOK: We're already seeing, in the last several months, in the House of Representatives, that it is not operated the same way—and how could you expect it to operate the same way when Speaker Hastert, the man at the top of the House Republican leadership was once a DeLay deputy. The Majority Whip, Roy Blunt, was once a DeLay deputy. In many ways, the leadership of the Republican party in the House of Representatives was crafted around a strong center: that being Tom DeLay. And so to switch that out with somebody else—it's fascinating to see how that's going to work.

INSKEEP: People who have covered Congress can think of night after night after night, I'm sure, where you're watching on television there as they're counting the votes in the House of Representatives. You need 218 votes to be a majority, and again and again and again, it would go 215, 216, 217, 218, whatever they brought up with DeLay, would pass, it seemed.

SEABROOK: Yes, and he is known for what he's called growing the vote, and that is why he's got the name the Hammer; he gets the votes, he got the votes through consistently for many years.

INSKEEP: Okay, Andrea, thanks very much.

SEABROOK: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Andrea Seabrook.

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