Former Speaker leaving Congress |

Former Speaker leaving Congress

AP Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON – Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who served as speaker of the House longer than any other Republican in history, intends to retire next year at the end of his current term, party officials said Tuesday.A formal announcement was planned for Friday.Hastert’s planned retirement is likely to set off a lively scramble between the two political parties for a House seat that he has held easily since 1986.Hastert’s decision has been expected since the GOP lost control of the House last November, costing him his powerful post. He had been speaker, second in the line of presidential succession behind the vice president, for eight years.The officials who discussed his plans did so on condition of anonymity because there had been no public announcement.Hastert’s decision to remain in the House after his speakership was unusual.His immediate predecessor, Republican Newt Gingrich of Georgia, was dogged by scandal when he stepped down as speaker after two terms, then resigned from Congress a short while later.Before Gingrich, Democratic Rep. Tom Foley of Washington was defeated for re-election in 1994. Foley’s predecessor, Democratic Rep. Jim Wright of Texas, resigned under an ethics cloud in 1989.Hastert, 65, declined to run for minority leader after his party’s defeat in the 2006 elections, taking on a role as elder statesman among Republicans.He has been a strong supporter of the war in Iraq.As speaker during President Bush’s first six years in office, he labored successfully to pass the administration’s tax cuts as well as landmark Medicare legislation that provides a prescription drug benefit.Democrats said Hastert’s decision will make it more difficult for Republicans to hold his congressional seat.”Any Republican running will have to answer for their party’s failure to be nothing more than a rubber stamp for George Bush’s endless war in Iraq and his irresponsible fiscal policies,” said Doug Thornell, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

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