The Nevada Democrat said Friday his recent accident put things into perspective, but warned his Republican colleagues not to get too excited.
Sen. Harry Reid announced Friday that he will not seek re-election to the Senate next year.
"I want to be able to go out at the top of my game," he told The New York Times in an interview. "I don't want to be a 42-year-old trying to become a designated hitter."
Reid, 75, will retire after serving 30 years in Congress, and over 10 years as the leader of the Senate Democrats.
Earlier this year, the Senate minority leader suffered severe injuries to his ribs and right eye after he fell while exercising, leading some to wonder whether his health would keep him out of the race in 2016. While recovering, he had limited vision, and had to rely on staffers to help him read documents. But Reid had insisted he would seek re-election.
In a YouTube video posted Friday, Reid said his fall put things into perspective.
"This accident has caused us for the first time to have a little downtime. I have had time to ponder and think," he said. "We've got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada—than us. And as a result of that, I'm not going to run for re-election."
But his retirement is not about the fall. "The decision that I have made has absolutely nothing to do with my injury, has nothing to do with my being minority leader, and it certainly has nothing to do with my ability to be re-elected," he said.
Reid said that his race in Nevada would take up campaign money that's much more needed in other competitive states for Democrats.
"We have to make sure that the Democrats take control of the Senate again," Reid said. "And I feel it is inappropriate for me to soak up all those resources on me when I could be devoting those resources to the caucus."
But he had a warning for his Republican colleagues. "My friend Sen. McConnell, don't be too elated," he said. "I'm gonna be here for 22 months, and you know what I'm going to be doing? The same thing I've done since I first came to the Senate."
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is considered a favorite to take over Reid's post as minority leader, called Reid "one of the best humans beings I've ever met" in a glowing statement Friday. "He's so respected by our caucus for his strength, his legislative acumen, his honesty and his determination," Schumer said. "He has left a major mark on this body, this country, and on so many who have met him, gotten to know him, and love him."
Reid's retirement gives Democrats an opportunity to introduce voters to a new candidate; likely one with higher approval ratings. In recent years, as Reid has managed the perennially stuck Senate, he has become the face of any perceived Democratic-caused gridlock. Whichever Democrat runs for the Nevada seat in 2016, they will enjoy the benefits of being on the ticket in a presidential year when higher turnout—especially of Nevada's growing Latino population—is expected to bolster Democrats' chances.
Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval had been considered as a possible 2016 challenger to Reid. In December, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller spoke to Sandoval about running . "We've had conversations, yes," Sandoval told The Washington Post , but said he has not made a decision.
Reid was first elected in 1986. He grew up in a house without plumbing, where, according to the Almanac of American Politics , he had to hitchhike 40 miles to high school. As a young man, Reid was a middleweight boxer, who then put himself through law school working nights as a Capitol Hill police officer. "I would rather dance than fight, but I know how to fight," Reid told Bloomberg in 2004.
In the video announcing his retirement, Reid referred to his boxing days. "These bruises I have on my face, on my eye are an inconvenience but trust me, they're nothing compared to some of the bruises I got when I was fighting in the ring."
Lauren Fox contributed to this article.