WASHINGTON Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert will resign before his term ends and possibly in December, a House aide said on Thursday, ending a 20-year career that soured when Republicans lost control of Congress last November.
"He intends to resign early," the House aide said, asking not to be identified. Fellow Republicans hope Hastert's decision to leave before the January 2009 expiration of his term will make it easier for the party to hold onto his seat in next November's elections if a Republican takes his place.
In August, Hastert, a 65-year-old former high school teacher and wrestling coach, said he would not seek a 12th term next year. He had been the longest-serving Republican speaker in U.S. history.
At the time, he left open the question of whether he would serve out his term. A special election would be held to fill the seat, which represents a northern Illinois district west of Chicago.
"People (Republicans) are leaving because they find it is no fun to be in the minority," a Republican leadership aide said, adding, "We're going to lose seats" next year.
With polls showing widespread voter dissatisfaction with lawmakers and President George W. Bush, a growing number of House and Senate Republicans have announced their retirement from Congress.
Twelve House Republicans are either retiring or seeking other public office next year. So far, only one Democrat, Rep. Thomas Allen of Maine, is leaving. He plans to run for a Senate seat.
The conservative Hastert was replaced as speaker in January by Nancy Pelosi, a liberal Democrat from California, after her party took control of Congress in November's election.
The speaker of the House is second in line to take over the presidency, after the vice president, if the chief executive can no longer serve. The speaker controls the legislative agenda in the House and is a top party leader.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro)