McLEAN, Va. (AP) - Veteran Rep. Jim Moran, a pugnacious Democrat who made headlines as an early, outspoken opponent of the Iraq War and for saying during the Monica Lewinsky scandal that he might like to punch Bill Clinton in the nose, announced Wednesday that he will retire from Congress after 12 terms representing northern Virginia.
The 68-year-old former mayor of Alexandria, Va. was first elected in 1990. He has been a staunch supporter of federal civilian employees who have a heavy presence in his district.
In a phone interview, Moran said he wants to leave "on a high note" and sees the recent bipartisan budget deal as an achievement that may be difficult to replicate in the next few years, given the level of partisan rancor.
"I think from a personal and professional standpoint, things are as good as they're going to get," Moran said. "Now is the time to leave head first rather than feet first."
Moran's retirement is unlikely to affect the battle for control of the House in November - his district in Washington's inner suburbs is heavily Democratic and considered safe for the party. The open seat is likely to draw a crowded field of local Democratic officeholders.
President Obama released a statement Wednesday on Moran's retirement:
"In his twenty-three years in the United States Congress, Jim Moran has pushed to create jobs and economic opportunity for hardworking Virginians and has consistently demonstrated a commitment to growing a strong American economy. And because of Jim's leadership, our brave service members and veterans are better protected, our civil service is stronger, and our air and water are cleaner and safer. Michelle and I thank Congressman Moran for his service, and we wish him and his family the very best in the future."
Moran was in line to be the dean of Virginia's congressional delegation after Republican Frank Wolf announced last month that he would be retiring after 17 terms.
In a statement Wednesday, Wolf praised his colleague from across the aisle.
"Jim is more than a colleague in the House. He is a friend," Wolf said. "He has been a true partner in working for Northern Virginia and will be missed."
Moran is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Interior subcommittee and a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Moran said he chose a role as an appropriator in Congress and has witnessed changes in the process over the years.
He defended his work in that role and said he is proud of the projects he was able to deliver under the old system of earmarks, including children's health clinics and environmental rehabilitation projects that were funded by earmarks he shepherded through the budget process.
"I had always wanted to know that I had made a difference in the lives of my constituents," he said. "I can drive or walk or bike into nearly any neighborhood in my district and know there is something there I contributed to in a positive way."
Moran was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, and said it is one of the votes he looks back on with pride. He also looked back fondly on his opposition in 1996 to the Defense of Marriage Act, which passed overwhelmingly at the time but was struck down by the Supreme Court last year for violating the constitutional rights of same-sex couples.
Moran's outspoken nature occasionally landed him in controversy. In the run-up to the Iraq War, Moran told a community forum that "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going and I think they should."
Moran apologized amid complaints of anti-Semitism, and the comments helped prompt a primary challenge in 2004 from lawyer Andrew Rosenberg. Moran won the primary with 59 percent of the vote, and subsequently never faced serious opposition.
In 1998, he was strongly critical of Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, but ultimately voted against impeachment. In venting his anger after Clinton's admission, Moran said he told Hillary Clinton that if she had been his sister, he would have punched her husband in the nose.
Moran said Wednesday that while he has few regrets, his comments about Clinton were wrong and he is now a strong supporter of the Clintons.
"They have forgiven me far faster than I would have," he said.