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GOP's Armey: 'Time for me to stand down'

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, annouced Wednesday that he won't seek re-election in 2002.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, annouced Wednesday that he won't seek re-election in 2002.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Majority Leader Dick Armey told chamber colleagues Wednesday that he will not run in the 2002 midterm elections, ending what would be 18 years of service to his Texas district.

Armey, a key architect of the Republicans' string of legislative successes in the last three congressional sessions, said many of his priorities had been realized and now was the time to step aside.

"The American people deserve a government that knows their goodness and has the decency to respect it," Armey said in an emotional floor speech. "It is up to us to be that government, and I have complete confidence that we will continue to be just that.

"Because of this confidence, I am comfortable telling you today that the end of this 107th Congress is the time for me to stand down as majority leader and as a member of Congress," Armey added, ending speculation about his intentions and sparking what is likely to be a spirited war of succession within the House GOP.

The nine-term Texas representative confirmed to his party colleagues his intention to retire during a Wednesday morning meeting of the House Republican Conference, sources said.

Rumors of Armey's retirement prompted colleagues Tuesday to leak word of their plans for leadership posts. Battle lines will shape up throughout 2002 as the second year of the 107th Congress adjourns and members devote attention to the pivotal midterm elections.

The new ranks of the House leadership, however, will depend on the ability of Republicans to maintain their majority following the election.

DeLay eyes position, associate says

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a fellow Texan, will run for the majority leader's post, according to an associate of DeLay's. The source also said that U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, House deputy majority whip, will seek DeLay's position as whip.

Armey credited the Republican majority for a series of ideological and legislative gains since 1995, including two tax reduction packages, the 1996 welfare reform bill, the 1997 balanced budget agreement with the Clinton White House and a budgeting strategy that resulted in billions in surplus gains for the federal government.

"We should be proud of what we have done in our young majority," he said.

To his often bitter Democratic rivals, Armey offered an expression of thanks for their loyal service to the United States.

"To my friends on the other side, we have had many good contests," he said. "We are sometimes together but more often in opposition. Thank you my friends for being constant, consistent and reliable."

Democrats reacted with laughter and applause.

But Armey reserved his most moving comments for his wife, Susan, and their family.

"I am sad to say what we all know is true," he said. "Too often our service to our nation is a disservice to our family. They live a life of hardship that is rarely supposed and even less understood."

Turning toward his wife seated in the House gallery, Armey said, "I want to thank you for all your years of sacrifice."

Voices of appreciation

U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-California, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and an Armey ally, credited the majority leader for a steady hand in GOP successes.

"Dick Armey was with us in the minority; he was critical in making us the majority," Thomas said. "It's pretty clear that the American people like what we've been doing, and we've been able to continue in the majority. Dick Armey has been critical to that."

One of Armey's political foils, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said Armey was a passionate advocate of his beliefs.

"One could feel the depths of his commitment to this institution," she said. "He is an enthusiastic and unapologetic advocate for his conservative position. He loves this institution, his work and his family. It's wonderful that he's bowing out with grace and dignity."

Armey, a college economics professor before his 1984 bid for the House, has been a staunch advocate of the tenets of the free market system, and his policies have reflected his belief in capitalism and scaled-down central government.

He ascended to his leadership post in January 1995 when Republicans took control of the chamber for the first time in 40 years. He crafted the Contract with America with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and presided with Gingrich over a whirlwind first 100 days of that congressional session -- a period in which the GOP turned many of the contract's priorities into legislation.

His party leadership was challenged at the beginning of the 106th session by two popular members of the House conference -- Rep. Jennifer Dunn of Washington and Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. The Republican conference had to post three ballots in its election meeting before Armey prevailed.

-- CNN's Ian Christopher McCaleb and Manuel Perez-Rivas contributed to this report.


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