House Armed Services Committee chair to step down

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Bob Stump, R-Ariz., Friday said "serious health problems" will compel him to retire at the end of the 107th Congress, after serving 13 terms on Capitol Hill.

Stump will complete one term as chairman of the Armed Services panel; he served six years at the helm of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

In a statement, Stump said he was undergoing medical tests for the unspecified problems and that he plans to return to farming in Tolleson, Ariz.

Stump served in the Navy during World War II and has been a strong supporter of a national missile defense system, tightened immigration controls and English language requirements. The 75-year-old lawmaker privately informed House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., of his decision in recent days, according to sources.

Stump won the Armed Services gavel in a competitive race with Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., after the late Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., was forced by House GOP term limits to relinquish the chairmanship.

Weldon, who chairs the Armed Services Military Procurement Subcommittee, was unavailable for comment Friday. A source close to Weldon said he would not announce his intentions today, but added: "Curt hasn't slowed down since the last chairmanship race. The defense authorization, the war are his top priorities. He will also continue to raise money for [GOP] members and speak around the country to veterans' organizations."

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the committee's most senior Republican behind Stump and who serves as chairman of the Military Research and Development Subcommittee, announced he would run for the chairmanship.

In a statement, Hunter said: "I'll be working hard for the chairmanship position. Meanwhile, I will also continue my work on the annual defense authorization bill, which is very important to the war on terrorism. I will also work hard for the Republican team in the upcoming election."

Hunter supported Stump's bid for the chairmanship prior to this Congress. "It's very, very early, but Hunter would probably have the slightest inside track," according to one GOP source, who added: "But Weldon made a very strong push last time, his candidacy was very well received. It just came down to [Stump's] seniority."

Stump becomes the 32nd sitting House member who will not return next year due to retirement, a quest for higher office or defeat for renomination--20 of them Republicans.