Rep. Henry Hyde (search), the Illinois Republican who steered the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton and championed government restrictions on abortion funding, announced Monday that he will retire when his term ends in 2006.

Hyde, who serves as chairman of the House International Relations Committee, made the announcement on his Web site on his 81st birthday. He was first elected to the House in 1974 from his Bensenville district near O'Hare International Airport (search).

Hyde also serves on the House Judiciary Committee, which he chaired from 1995 to 2001.

Aides to Hyde did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday. Andrew McKenna, chairman of the state Republican Party, was unable to be reached for comment, his office said.

Fellow Illinois Rep. John Shimkus (search) thanked Hyde for his years of service after the announcement.

"Congressman Hyde has been a standard bearer for conservative principles, causes and beliefs," Shimkus, a Republican, said in a written statement. "His leadership will be sorely missed on those fronts."

Rep. Tom Lantos of California called Hyde a "respected, dedicated public servant" and a "good friend" in a statement.

"Although our opinions on some issues have differed from time to time, Henry has always been very straightforward with me when he knows we might disagree," said Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee. "And once we have made our opinions known, and once the voting is done, it has never had an adverse effect on our relationship."

Hyde was not always a Republican. He grew up in Chicago as an Irish-Catholic Democrat but by 1952 had switched parties and backed Dwight D. Eisenhower for president.

He first became a national figure when in 1976, during his second year in Congress, he sponsored a House measure that prohibited federal funding of abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the "Hyde amendment" constitutional in 1980, and it has since become shorthand for restrictions on federal tax support of abortions.

His national profile rose again in 1998 when he was the chief manager of the House impeachment case against Clinton. Some Democrats thought the former Chicago defense attorney with a strong reputation for fairness was the best possible person the Democratic president could expect to see in the job.

But while the Senate was unwilling to remove Clinton from office, Hyde said Clinton should be held accountable for lying under oath.

"All a congressman ever gets to take with him when he leaves is the esteem of his colleagues and constituents, and we have risked that for a principle, for our duty as we have seen it," Hyde said in closing arguments before the Senate in 1999.

While busy with the investigation of Clinton, the congressman was forced to deal publicly with his own sex life. An Internet publication reported how Hyde as a married father in his 40s started a years-long affair with a 29-year-old married woman.

Hyde branded it an attempt to intimidate him. The White House denied it was behind the publication, and Hyde did not deny the affair, which he described as "my youthful indiscretions."

Earlier, Hyde was among the 12 former directors and officers of the Clyde Federal Savings and Loan who were sued for gross negligence by federal regulators after the 1990 failure of the North Riverside, Ill.-based institution. That failure cost taxpayers an estimated $68 million.

Hyde, who left the S&L in 1984, insisted he engaged in no wrongdoing and was the only director who refused to contribute to an $850,000 settlement that led to the lawsuit's dismissal in 1997.

A widower with four children, Hyde received a bachelor's degree in history from Georgetown University and a law degree from Loyola University. His first try for elective office came in 1962 — when he lost a bid for a U.S. House seat. In 1967, he entered the Illinois House, where he served seven years, including two as House majority leader.