Rep. David Dreier, the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, said Wednesday that he won’t seek re-election this year, ending a more than three-decade congressional career and setting up a potential scramble for his panel’s chairmanship.
The Rules Committee post, while not well known beyond Capitol Hill, is considered a crucial slot in the House hierarchy and one that is closely linked to the party’s leadership. Often called the chamber’s “gatekeeper,” the committee sets the rules for debate on bills on the floor and — a major source of its clout — decides which amendments proposed by members can be considered by the full House.
The California Republican, whose re-election prospects were complicated because of redistricting, said he contemplated retiring three years ago but decided against it because he wanted to stay in Congress to push for spending cuts, free-trade agreements and national security enhancements.
“This work is far from over, and I intend to spend this year working toward greater bipartisan progress,” he said. “Our economy and our job market remain in peril, and the effort to rein in the deficit has only just begun.”
Mr. Dreier, 59, considered a moderate in the House GOP caucus, said he took the unusual step to announce his retirement on the House floor because he was a “proud institutionalist.” He said he thinks the House is “as great as it has ever been.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called Mr. Dreier “a great patriot and dedicated public servant whose retirement will be a loss for the people’s House.”
“I personally have long considered David to be a good friend and trusted counselor,” Mr. Boehner said. “I know these sentiments are shared by members on both sides of the aisle, who respect David’s intellect and sense of fairness.”
Mr. Dreier was first elected to the House from the Los Angeles area in 1980 at age 28. He served as chairman of the Rules Committee from 1999 until 2007, when he was forced from the post after Democrats gained control of the House. He reclaimed the position in 2011 after Republicans retook the chamber.
Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas is the second-ranking Republican on the Rules Committee and in line to succeed Mr. Dreier. In a statement issued under his role as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Mr. Sessions said Mr. Dreier has a “friend and a mentor, and I will greatly miss his leadership and presence in Congress.”
But there is speculation on Capitol Hill that Republican leaders could tap someone else as the party’s top representative on the panel. Reps. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Rob Bishop of Utah have been mentioned, though Mrs. Foxx said Wednesday that she won’t lobby for the chairmanship and that it’s up to Mr. Boehner to decide. When asked whether she would accept the post if offered to her, she said such a scenario “is not likely to happen.”
“I am really totally neutral on this,” she said. “I just think that we should appreciate David Dreier and hope that whoever becomes the chair does as good a job.”
Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter, a New York Democrat who served as chairwoman for four years but relinquished the post to Mr. Dreier in 2011, likely would be her party’s choice to retake the position should Democrats win back control of the House in the November elections.
Because of redistricting — which has significantly altered the congressional map in California — Mr. Dreier faced the precarious prospect of running for re-election in a more Democratic district or facing off against an incumbent in a neighboring district.
The process has been blamed as a major influence affecting retirement decisions of other California incumbents, including longtime GOP Reps. Jerry Lewis, Wally Herger and Elton Gallegly.