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DeLay finished as majority leader

Texan says he will not try to regain post, will seek re-election

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DeLay says he's giving up his leadership post because it's "too important to be hamstrung."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Tom DeLay announced Saturday he will not try to reclaim the House majority leader post he had held for three years, but the Republican said he will seek re-election in his Texas district when his term expires in November.

"I plan to run a very vigorous campaign, and I plan to win," he said at a news conference in his home district of Sugar Land.

The Republican faces illegal campaign finance charges in Texas and was forced by party rules to step down from the leadership post while under indictment. Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri assumed the majority leadership job.

DeLay said Saturday that it was important he give up the majority leader post because the position is "too important to be hamstrung" and because the GOP needs to "unite behind a new and focused leader." (Watch DeLay announce he's stepping down -- 4:50)

Those comments echoed those made Friday by some House Republicans, who circulated a petition officially calling for new leadership elections in the wake of a series of ethics scandals, including that of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

This week Abramoff pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud.

"While we wage these important battles, I cannot allow our adversaries to divide and distract our attention," DeLay wrote in a letter sent to members of the House Republican conference on Saturday. (Read entire letter)

DeLay requested the conference convene to choose his replacement and stay focused on protecting the nation and "meeting the daily challenges facing the American people."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said expected a new majority leader will be elected during the week of January 31, when Congress reconvenes.

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy issued a statement saying: "We respect Congressman Delay's decision to put the interests of the American people, the House of Representatives, and the Republican Party first."

Republican John Boehner, a Congressman from Ohio and likely candidate for majority leader, called DeLay"one of the most effective and gifted leaders the Republican Party has ever known." He added that DeLay "will eventually be cleared and exonerated."

But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said DeLay's departure will fix nothing.

"The culture of corruption is so pervasive in the Republican conference that a single person stepping down is not nearly enough to clean up the Republican Congress," she wrote in a statement.

On Saturday fellow House member Louise Slaughter of New York used the Democratic weekly radio address to accuse the GOP leadership of putting the nation "up for sale to the highest bidder."

On Thursday a Texas prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, issued subpoenas for records of a $500,000 contribution linked to Abramoff and DeLay. (Details)

Prosecutors in Texas allege DeLay was involved in a scheme to circumvent a Texas law prohibiting corporate contributions to political campaigns.

DeLay has pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and conspiracy, calling them politically motivated. His trial is pending.

In his letter Saturday, DeLay again denied wrongdoing, saying, "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."

Nonetheless, Republicans have been concerned that their grip on power will loosen after the midterm elections, given the popularity of a Democratic argument that a culture of corruption pervades the GOP.

In addition to DeLay, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-California, resigned in November after admitting he took bribes from a defense contractor.

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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