Hastert announced Thursday he is leaving Congress at the end of the year.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - In a brief speech tempered with reflection, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, announced his midterm resignation Thursday afternoon on the House floor.
"The time has come for me to make my last speech from this podium," he told his colleagues. "Our Founding Fathers envisioned a citizen legislature and it's time for this legislator to return to being a private citizen."
Peering up occasionally from his written speech, the congressman said, "I do hope that I have left a few footprints behind that may be of value to those who come after me - just as I have benefited from the footprints of those who I followed to this most wonderful of institutions, the People's House."
After his speech, the current speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, D-California, called Hastert honorable, "not just for the office he holds, but by virtue of his character, his leadership and his contributions to our country."
She added, "Thank you for your leadership, congratulations on a great career. God truly blessed America with your service."
Last month, two congressional GOP sources told CNN that Hastert, the longest-serving Republican speaker in history, would give up his congressional seat rather than serve out the remaining year of his term.
"I think he is just done with being a member of Congress," a GOP aide told CNN. Hastert did not give a specific reason Thursday for his resignation.
Over the summer, Hastert, 65, had said he would not seek re-election in the state's 14th District, which he has served for more than two decades. He became speaker of the House in January 1999, and stepped down after Democrats garnered the majority in the 2006 midterm elections, ending 12 years of GOP control.
An aide to Hastert said Thursday he will retire by the end of December.
In his Thursday address to the House, the former teacher and wrestling coach reflected on his long career in politics, listing health care, tax and Social Security legislation among his achievements.
More importantly, however, he said, was what he described as the representatives' "most solemn obligation": providing for the nation's defense.
"On Sept. 11, 2001, I became a wartime speaker and together we became a wartime Congress. On that dark day, our Congress was united - we were not Republicans or Democrats, we were just Americans. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the steps of this Capitol and vowed to do whatever was necessary," he said.
"We tried to bind the wounds of those victimized by the attacks."
"Did we get it 100 percent right?" he asked. "Of course not. Only hindsight is 20/20. But through those efforts, and the grace of God, we have avoided additional attacks on American soil."
Hastert's remarks on the attacks of Sept. 11 were met with loud applause.
The portly congressman also considered the "breakdown of civility in our political discourse," something he said he wishes he had been more successful in combating.
"We each have a responsibility to be passionate about our beliefs - that is healthy government - but we also have a responsibility to be civil, open-minded and fair - to listen to one another and work in good faith to find solutions to the challenges facing our nation," he said.
"That is why the American people sent us here. They did not send us here just to get re-elected."
Initially, Hastert's ascent to House leadership seemed unlikely. After Newt Gingrich stepped aside as House speaker following the GOP's dismal performance in the 1998 elections, Bob Livingston of Louisiana was tapped to replace him. But Livingston opted to leave Congress after revelation of an extramarital affair.
House Republican leaders then settled on Hastert - a man with virtually no national profile - for the No. 3 position in the U.S. government.
Hastert built a reputation as a formidable leader and by 2003 his Republican colleagues waived term limits to allow him to continue as their speaker.
His leadership came under scrutiny in 2006 amid the scandal surrounding fellow Republican Mark Foley's contacts with teenage congressional pages.
However, a House ethics report found that neither Hastert nor any other current lawmaker or staffer broke any House rules in handling allegations that Foley, a representative from Florida, was having improper communications with teenage male House pages.
Related video: Watch a clip of Hastert's farewell speech
From his public mutterances, Mr. Hastert seemed to be no smarter than a high school wrestling coach. Yet, the big galoot proved he was smart enough to preside over the most corrupt and diabolical group of legislators in our history for longer than any other Republican leader. Even Newt couldn't do that! His reasons for leaving now, instead of during the regular elections also reeks of corrupt calculation.
I consider myself a Dem. but moreover, I am a citizen of the US. The Speaker was not a favorite of mine but he does deserve respect. Our nation was not built on hatred, cynicism, and sarcasm. It was built on the promise to try harder, do better, and find common ground. Dems, Rep, Greens, whatever; figure out a way to do good. Don't be so married to your convictions that you are blind to compromise. Grow up!
He tried his best to destroy fairness in politics. He helped cover up the corruption of the Republican Party. Once out of power he couldn’t stand the fact that he wasn’t the big cheese and the jumping ship like a lot of his cohorts in crime
The GOP will be a much better and more effective party without Denny Hastert.
His inept handling of the various scandals involving Republican congressmen was, in my opinion, a key ingrediant to the GOP's 2006 election debacle.
Of course Bush and Cheney helped.
Thank you for your service, Mr. Speaker. Good luck in retirement.
Hey, Pam – get serious - this is not about party, this is about a guy who did a LOT of harm, was not a fair and concerned legislator and truly was, and is, a train wreck! It makes no difference how many years he was in the Congress ("served" is way too generous a term), the point is that he is without honor and without truth – and thank heavens he is leaving!!!!.
Hastert is going back to his district, eh? Looks to me like most of that district should be bulldozed.
Foley,Delay, Ney Cunningham Hastert. Just a few that got caught and made this country the scourge of todays earth. From the most liked and honorable to the most dispised and you porky pig were mostly responsible for this demise. hope you get caught spending all the money you got from crooked deals and special interests. What goes around comes around, I hope i live long enough to see you get what you deserve.
Denny, Thanks for your service to our country. You have done a great job and service to our nationa. God Bless you and God Bless America.
"Hastert's leaving early is good for the GOP and bad for the Dems because it will put another Republican in there (special elections almost always go to GOP in conservative seats) and the Dems wont try and fight for the seat in 2008"
I think this is exactly the reason he ran last year. I believe he did not want to run, he felt done with it, but was asked to to retain the seat for the GOP (there was a lot of pressure on the GOP to try to keep every seat). Now that it is in GOP hands, he steps out, a likely GOP replaces him and is the incumbent next election cycle. Clever.
thank you mr hastert for your service to our nation. I wish you sucess and satisfaction in whatever you choose to do after leaving office. respect is hard earned on these sites, but you have mine.
PRAISE THE LORD.
NOW WE CAN MOVE FORWARD INSTEAD OF LEGISLATION FOR 1980'S.
WHILE LISTENING TO HASTERT'S FARWELL SPEECH TODAY HE MADE THE STATEMENT ABOUT CIVILITY BEING RESTORED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. IF YOU WATCH THE HOUSE SESSIONS AS I DO, HIS CIVILITY STATEMENT SHOULD HAVE BEEN AIMED AT THE REPUBLICANS. EACH DAY I HEAR THE REPUBLICANS ATTEMPT TO STOP ANY LEGISLATION THAT WOULD BENEFIT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. HASTERT WAS AT THE TOP OF THE LIST WITH HIS ATTEMPTS AND VOTES. I HOPE HE HAS A GOOD LIFE, BUT I DEFINITELY HAVE NO REASONS FOR WANTING HIM TO STAY IN OFFICE,
Goodbye, Dennis Hastert. You won't be missed.
I live in the 14th district Il. It's long over due the cover up in the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal and the financial impropricety in the Hastert's more than $2 million profit from the sale of land near the prosed ear mark Hastert Prairie Parkway route just to name a few...we need to clean house in the next election...Vote for John Laesch 14th district IL
mark wilkes barre pa and Danny,
"respect is hard earned on these sites, but you have mine." ... "You have done a great job and service to our nationa."
LOL ... leave it to someone OUTSIDE of Illinois to say how much "respect" Hastert earned. I'll bet you guys think Rudy did GREAT as Mayor of NYC too... since you don't live THERE either right?
And hey Disappointed, Libertyville, IL?
"he does deserve respect."
Really? Based on the fact that WE didn't vote for him ... his fiscal "responsibility" ... or the fact that he tried to cover up the GOP page scandal?
Yep ... please take your own advice and "Grow up!"
And read a few newspapers while you're at it.
Wow, Wolf Blitzer- you are such a wimp. Why didn't you ask Senator Clinton why she had four different positions on the illegal alien driver's license issue. Perhaps you should have just worn a Clinton Campaign button during the debate. You proved that the Clinton's camp got to you with their Russert complaints.. too bad you don't have any cajones!