In a tearful address before family, friends and colleagues, Sen. Phil Gramm announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election next year. The Texas Republican said his decision followed "a long and difficult period of soul searching."
Gramm's retirement will conclude a career that spanned two political parties and a quarter-century.
"Remarkably, the things I came to Washington to do are done," Gramm, 59, told a news conference, his voice breaking with emotion.
He mentioned tax cuts passed under President Reagan and the current President Bush and a federal budget now in surplus.
He predicted a Republican would be elected to replace him in increasingly Republican Texas. The former Democrat was first elected to the House in 1978 and to the Senate in 1984.
"I am announcing today that I will not seek re-election to the United States Senate. At the end of this term, I will end my career in public service," Gramm's said in a statement.
Gramm is the third senior Senate Republican to announce he will not seek re-election. Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina announced last month he would retire and 98-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina said when he was re-elected in 1996 that this term would be his last.
Gramm decided over the weekend to retire but didn't tell associates definitively until Tuesday morning, officials said.
Gramm told colleagues he will serve out the remainder of his term, which expires in January 2003. As for his future, officials said Gramm told them he was looking forward to a third career, but would not disclose his plans for life after the Senate. He was an economics professor before entering politics and has long been mentioned as a successor to Ray Bowen, outgoing president of Texas A&M University.
Gramm's retirement is unlikely to cost Republicans a seat in a state that has become strongly Republican in recent years. Overall, Democrats hold a 50-49 Senate majority, with one independent. Republicans must guard 21 Senate seats next year. Democrats are defending 14, none of them open.
Gramm, 59, was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1978 but helped Republicans pass President Reagan's budget and tax cuts in 1981. After his 1982 re-election, Gramm left the Democratic Party and quit his seat, then won it back in a special election in 1983. He won his Senate seat the following year.
He is a close ally of Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott and an influential voice within the Senate's Republican leadership.
In three Senate terms, Gramm was a strong proponent of tax cuts. Last winter, he introduced a plan patterned on Bush's campaign proposals even before the new president could send his own blueprint to Congress.
At the same time, he has been a critic of government spending. Last year, he and a few fellow fiscal conservatives held up work on a GOP budget blueprint, saying it overspent.
Republicans say they are confident of retaining Gramm's seat in the 2002 midterm election. The seat had formerly been held by Republican John Tower and Bush, the former Texas governor, won the state handily in 2000.
When Vermont Sen. James Jeffords switched from Republican to independent earlier this year and turned control of the Senate over to Democrats, Gramm had to give up his chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee.
Gramm was a Texas A&M economics professor when he first ran for Congress, without success, as a Democrat in 1976.
Gramm unsuccessfully sought the GOP's presidential nomination in 1996, quitting the race before the leadoff New Hampshire primary.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.