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DeLay leaves House unbowed, without regret

'I exit, as always, stage right'

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DeLay leaves his Capitol Hill office Thursday. With him are his wife and daughter.

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Tom DeLay
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Tom DeLay took his final bow on the House floor Thursday, offering a robust defense of two things for which he became well known during more than two decades in Congress -- unyielding conservatism and unapologetic partisanship.

Despite a string of ethics controversies leading to his political exit, DeLay, who leaves office Friday, insisted he had served "at all times honorably and honestly ... as God is my witness and history is my judge."

In his farewell address, the former House majority leader -- nicknamed "The Hammer" for his ability to keep GOP troops in line -- told colleagues that partisanship "is not a symptom of democracy's weakness but of its health and its strength, especially from the perspective of a political conservative."

"The common lament over the recent rise in political partisanship is often nothing more than a veiled complaint instead about the recent rise of political conservatism," he said. "You show me a nation without partisanship, and I'll show you a tyranny."

The Texas Republican also told his colleagues to remember that compromise and bipartisanship "are means, not ends, and are properly employed only in the service of higher principles."

"It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first principle," DeLay said, adding that true statesmen "are not defined by what they compromise, but by what they don't."

DeLay also hailed the progress he said Republicans had made since taking over the House in 1994 -- lowering taxes, reforming welfare and opposing abortion, cloning and euthanasia "because such procedures fundamentally deny the unique dignity of the human person."

"We have supported the spread of democracy and the ongoing war against terror because those policies protect and affirm the inalienable human right of all men and women and children to live in freedom," he said.

DeLay also said conservatism "is often unfairly accused of being insensitive and mean-spirited -- sometimes, unfortunately, even by other conservatives."

"As a result, conservatives often attempt to soften that stereotype by overfunding broken programs, or glossing over ruinous policies," he said. "But conservatism isn't about feeling people's pain. It's about curing it."

Democrats walk out on speech

DeLay has been a favorite target of Democrats over the years, which extended even to his valedictory Thursday.

Some 70 House Democrats sat politely through the beginning of the speech. But about 20 of them stood up and began filing out of the chamber when DeLay launched into a critique of liberalism as a philosophy seeking "more government, more taxation, more control over people's lives and decisions and wallets."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had earlier complained about the decision to interrupt House business to allow him to speak, instead of relegating his farewell to the beginning or end of the day, when time is set aside for members to make personal remarks.

She also said DeLay's legacy "will be a culture of corruption that he built here in the Congress."

Asked by CNN's Candy Crowley for his reaction to Pelosi's assessment, DeLay said, "It says more about Nancy Pelosi than it does about me."

"The hatred is amazing," he said, attributing the vitriol to Republican success.

"The Democrats hate losing. They hate being out of power," he said.

'This is a happy day'

DeLay said his proudest achievements in Congress were "pushing the conservative cause, changing the culture of this town, bringing the conservative view into the mainstream."

He said he would continue that work out of office, going out into the country to help elect Republicans and talk about "the conservative view and where we want to take the country."

DeLay, first elected to the House in 1984, announced in April that he would abandon his bid for re-election and resign, effective Friday. In his final floor speech, he joked that he was leaving "under the happiest of the available options," given that political careers usually end in defeat, death or retirement.

DeLay was forced to step down as House majority leader last September, after he was indicted in Texas on charges that he improperly steered corporate donations to state legislative candidates in 2002. He has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty, calling the allegations "frivolous" and politically motivated.

In addition to the indictment, DeLay has suffered politically from his association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to a variety of corruption charges and has been cooperating with investigators looking into allegations of corruption on Capitol Hill.

While DeLay has not been linked to wrongdoing in the Abramoff probe, two of his former staffers -- Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon -- have pleaded guilty to corruption charges.

However, as he prepared to say good-bye to public office, DeLay was unrepentant, telling CNN's Crowley, with a smile, that he had no regrets.

"None -- not a single one," he said.

On the House floor, though, he did admit that if he had it to do all over again, he would do one thing differently:

"I would fight even harder," he said.

"In this House, I found my life's calling and my soul's savior," DeLay said. "This is a happy day for me, though admittedly perhaps not as happy as it is for some of our old friends on the other side of the aisle."

He concluded his good-bye by saying, "I exit, as always, stage right."

At the conclusion of the almost 25-minute speech, Republican members stood and applauded and cheered. Lawmakers crowded into the well of the House to hug DeLay and wish him well, including one of the chamber's most well-known liberals, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.

CNN's Deidre Walsh contributed to this report.

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