Hastert to Step Down Soon, Sources Say

(By Brian Kersey -- Associated Press)
By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 2007

Former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) plans to resign before the end of the year, Republican sources said yesterday.

"It's pretty much a certainty that he is expected to step down before the end of the year," said a House GOP leadership aide. Hastert previously announced he will not seek reelection next year.

Hastert's office would not confirm his departure. "He has consistently said that he would continue to serve as long as he is effective, and that is still the case today," said spokesman Brad Hahn. "There are different discussions taking place, but no decisions have been made."

Hastert is in his 11th term and served as speaker from 1999 until Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) succeeded him this year. He was the longest-serving Republican speaker and had the second-longest continuous term in the post overall, longer than anyone since Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill (D-Mass.).

Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) will schedule a special election for early next year. Hastert's departure will create an opening on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Hastert, a former high school teacher and wrestling coach, was born in Aurora, Ill., and has spent his life in his district, where Chicago's exurbs sprawl into the remaining farmland of downstate Illinois. He became speaker two months after the November 1998 elections, succeeding Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). He was known as "the accidental speaker," because he was selected after Gingrich's putative successor, Bob Livingston, resigned, and because he never intended to push for the job. But at the behest of Gingrich, Hastert announced his candidacy and was chosen in the course of a day.

Over time, the low-key Hastert built a reputation as a consensus-builder and a smart tactician. One of his strategic maneuvers came in 2000, when he canceled a House vote on a controversial resolution that labeled as genocide the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks beginning in 1915. Hastert's move came at the urging of President Bill Clinton, who feared that the resolution would damage U.S.-Turkey relations. This week, those same concerns appear to have doomed a successor to that resolution.

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