Q&A: Tom DeLay Explains His Decision

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Tom DeLay, the Texas republican representative and former House Majority Leader, and his wife, Christine, sat down at their kitchen table in Sugar Land, Texas, on Monday with TIME White House correspondent Mike Allen to explain DeLay's decision not to seek reelection, and to give up his Congressional seat in the next few months. Joining the discussion were his campaign manager, Chris Homan, and his House press secretary, Shannon Flaherty.

TIME: Thank you for sitting down with TIME. I understand you're going to be making an announcement soon. Could you tell us about that?

DeLay: After the primary [March 7], I started looking at—reevaluating the primary—evaluating what the general election was going to be, looking at the landscape. I spent a lot of time talking to friends and people I have respect for and staff—Christine and I every day discussing what the future holds. And I'm very proud of my record and I feel very strongly about what the 22nd District that I represent deserves. I spent a lot of time in prayer. It was obvious to me—I'm a realist. I've been around awhile. I can evaluate political situations. And it was obvious to me that the 22nd District needed an election that discussed issues. It was obvious to me that this election had become a referendum on me.

And although I felt, I feel that I could have won the race, I just felt like I didn't want to risk the seat and that I can do more on the outside of the House than I can on the inside right now. I want to continue to fight for the conservative cause. I want to continue to work for a Republican majority. It's obvious to me over the last few months, I have tremendous support, not just in the 22nd District. I mean, when I say "tremendous support," I'm talking about people who strongly support me and are emotional about what we've been fighting for and what we've been working for. And I have felt that support around the country, too, and in Washington, D.C. I feel very close to the Members and have a great relationship with the members. And I'm looking at being focused right here in this district, fighting a referendum on me, versus being able to go out and work for the conservative cause and the Republican majority. It just became obvious that that's what I needed to do.

I made a speech last week, and that pretty much cinched it for me. A good friend of mine, Dr. Rick Scarborough, who started—and I urged him, and we've worked together over the years—an organization called Vision America, which is out recruiting pastors to get involved in the political arena. He asked me to come speak. He was having a conference on the war on Christianity. So I made a speech on Wednesday. It was covered by C-Span and, frankly, a bunch of cameras. I felt very good, very free about giving that speech. The reaction was incredible—just an outpouring of love and support from the audience. It was probably the one single event that convinced me: I can DO this. I could keep fighting for the things I believe in, outside of Congress.

TIME: What was it that made you feel free, and what was your main point?

DeLay:My main point was that this country was built on morals and religion. Our greatest leaders were very strong believers. There is a connection between religion and politics, and religion and government. There has to be for this country to have accomplished all it's accomplished and for its future. How many times have the great leaders—Ronald Reagan, Roosevelt, Lincoln, George Washington—have said there is a connection between morals and religion. And there has to be. The people that go to church understand that a country has to be based on some sort of religion and fear of God because they understand that.

Christine DeLay: They're accountable.

DeLay: Yeah. If you know that we're all sinners, then you know that we have to work hard to have a moral foundation. So I felt very liberated in being able to say that. I didn't have to worry about being the spokesman for the Republican Party and all that kind of stuff.

Christine DeLay: Plus, they were all your friends.

DeLay: Well, most of 'em knew who I was—they knew who I was. (Both DeLays chuckle)

Christine DeLay: There was QUITE a chunk of that Chris Matthews' show.

DeLay: Oh, they did? Hmm.

TIME: What are your immediate plans? Could you talk to me about the timeline?

DeLay: I'm going to announce tomorrow [Tuesday] that I'm not running for reelection and that I'm going to leave Congress sometime—I haven't figured out because I have some things to do, to finish. I'm working very hard on the President's vision for NASA and that's incredibly important for the nation, as well as this district. I'm working on some district things. I hope to get through those things as fast as possible. But it'll take a couple months. So I don't know exactly the date. I'll probably come up with a date in the next couple weeks.

TIME: Less than 60 days? Sometime in May?

DeLay:Probably the end of May. But it depends on the Congressional schedule. As far as what happens with my spot on the ballot: The state Republican executive committee will go to work and I will move to Virginia. The state Republican election committee will pick someone to run on this ballot.

TIME: What is it about the law that makes your moving to Virginia important?

DeLay:I become ineligible to run for election if I'm not a resident of the state of Texas.

TIME: Where in Virginia?

DeLay:I own, I live in a condo in Alexandria. So that will be my residence.

TIME:When do you plan to start telling people about the decision?

DeLay: First thing in the morning. We're going to lay it out. We will send a [videotaped] speech to all the media outlets. We will send a letter to my district through e-mail and otherwise we will send a letter to the members explaining why I'm doing what I'm doing, and that'll be that.

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