MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
We're going to start this hour with the big political news of the day, the resignation of Congressman Tom DeLay. DeLay was once one of the most powerful politicians in Washington. He faced a tough battle for reelection, corruption charges in Texas and the threat of charges in Washington, and he announced today that he is quitting Congress. In this part of the program, we'll hear about the political implications of DeLay's departure, and we'll hear from his home district.
First up, though, we'll hear from NPR's Andrea Seabrook, at the Capitol.
ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:
His resignation from Congress is truly the end of an era. Tom DeLay was at the core of the Washington power structure during a time when Republicans took over the House, gained new seats in Texas and elsewhere and passed into law some of the most conservative legislation this country has seen in decades.
Despite this, DeLay told NPR this morning that he's almost looking forward to leaving Congress.
Representative TOM DELAY (Republican, Texas): I'm kind of excited that I'm going to be out there trying to unify the conservative movement. I'm going to be fighting very hard to grow the majority in the House. I can, I just think I can do it better outside the House than inside right now.
SEABROOK: DeLay says he's quitting because his reelection campaign was beginning to get too expensive and nasty, and he'd rather make way for another Republican to keep the congressional seat than risk it going to the Democrats. But if DeLay is known for anything, it's for relishing a tough political fight, not turning away from one. And so his action suggests that the legal and ethical problems that have been dogging him for months have weakened him considerably.
Reaction from DeLay's Republican colleagues was somewhat subdued. House Speaker Dennis Hastert praised his work and said he's sorry to see DeLay go, and John Boehner, the man elected to replace DeLay as majority leader, said many House Republicans are sad today.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): Tom was a great leader, and while not everyone agreed with him every day, he was able to accomplish an awful lot on our behalf, and to see him being wrenched through this political rack, it's not fair.
SEABROOK: Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have been railing against what they call Republicans' culture of corruption in Congress. Pelosi says nothing changes with DeLay's resignation.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): Every House Republican has been an accomplice to this corruption, because they have resisted every initiative that we have put forth to investigate the corruption that is here. They have chosen to ignore it because they benefit from it.
SEABROOK: Pelosi, too, expressed skepticism that DeLay's resignation had anything to do with his reelection campaign in Texas and pointed instead to his ongoing legal problems. DeLay is under indictment in Texas for money laundering and conspiracy in connection with his fundraising and campaigning for state legislative candidates.
But what seems more threatening is the FBI's corruption investigation, the one that started with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and which just last Friday led straight inside Tom DeLay's congressional office to a man named Tony Rudy. Rudy used to be DeLay's deputy chief of staff and press secretary. He pleaded guilty to seeking and accepting bribes in return for official political acts while Rudy worked for DeLay.
DeLay told NPR today he had no idea.
Representative DELAY: We didn't know any of this was going on, and it had nothing to do with me or the way my office runs. It's just unfortunate that our trust was broken, and I'm greatly disappointed about Tony's actions, but it has nothing to do with me.
SEABROOK: What do you think of the business that was being apparently run out of your office, and don't you see that this investigation is going closer and closer inside towards you in your office?
Representative DELAY: I know you, the press has a hard time believing it, but the truth is, I am not a target of this investigation, Abramoff has nothing to do with me, and you know what? When I step out of the House, I don't have to answer those kind of questions anymore. And I've got to go. Bye-bye.
SEABROOK: When DeLay leaves public office in June, he may get some relief from reporters' questions, but the federal corruption investigation that has now focused on his office and former employees seems only to be zeroing in on the man himself.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.