Hastert’s departure opens up a second Republican seat in Illinois.
He told The New York Times it is “time to step away,“ given the smaller role he has had since the Democrats took control of the House in January.
Hastert, a former high school teacher and wrestling coach, compared his situation as a former speaker to being a retired coach sitting in the stands.
“The fact is you don’t need to be there second-guessing everybody all the time,” Hastert said.
Hastert became speaker in 1998 at a time of bitter political division. The Republican Party had been in control since the watershed 1994 election, but Newt Gingrich decided to resign as speaker and leave Congress, realizing he was hurting his party.
When Gingrich’s presumed successor also bowed out after admitting having an affair, Hastert became speaker. Majority Leader Tom DeLay backed him, realizing he would be too divisive.