Discuss as:

Rep. Inslee resigning from Congress to focus on Washington state governor's race

Elaine Thompson / AP

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. wants to focus full time on running for governor of Washington state this fall.

Updated at 4:44 p.m. ET: SEATTLE -- Rep. Jay Inslee is resigning from Congress to focus full time on running for governor of Washington state this fall.

Inslee, a Democrat in his eighth term representing the Seattle-area 1st District, announced his decision Saturday ;at a news conference in Seattle.

Washington's Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire, is retiring at the end of her term, and Inslee wants to suceed her. State Attorney General Rob McKenna is the leading Republican candidate for governor.

Inslee is among 22 Democratic members of the House who are not seeking re-election, along with 16 Republicans.

If Inslee had resigned by March 6, Gregoire would have had to order a special election to fill his congressional seat, setting off a scramble among the half-dozen candidates in the 1st District race, according to The Seattle Times. But if he steps down March 7 or later, his seat would remain vacant until after the November elections, the newspaper said.

His resignation is effective March 20.

President Barack Obama praised Inslee's political accomplishments.

"Through the course of more than 20 years working on behalf of Washington state, including more than a decade in Congress, Jay Inslee has never forgotten where he came from," Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. "A son of the Pacific Northwest, Jay has been a champion of our natural resources while pushing for new sources of clean energy. Jay has supported new frontiers in technology, and worked to increase fairness in our nation's health care system. While Jay's voice in Congress will be missed, I know he will continue his dedicated service to the people of Washington state."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.