updated 7/18/2008 9:43:55 PM ET 2008-07-19T01:43:55

Former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm resigned Friday from his role as Republican presidential candidate John McCain's campaign co-chairman, hoping to quiet the uproar that followed his comments that Americans had become a "nation of whiners" whose constant complaints about the U.S. economy show they are in a "mental recession."

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Gramm, a past presidential candidate, made the remarks more than a week ago. McCain immediately distanced himself from the comments, but they brought a steady stream of criticism just as McCain is trying to show he can help steer the country past its current financial troubles.

Gramm said in a statement late Friday that he is stepping down to "end this distraction."

"It is clear to me that Democrats want to attack me rather than debate Senator McCain on important economic issues facing the country," Gramm said. "That kind of distraction hurts not only Senator McCain's ability to present concrete programs to deal with the country's problems, it hurts the country. To end this distraction and get on with the real debate, I hereby step down as co-chair of the McCain campaign and join the growing number of rank-and-file McCain supporters."

Gramm made the comment to The Washington Times and later explained that he was talking about the nation's leaders not the American people. Democrats claimed at the time that the Gramm comments showed that McCain is out of touch with voters' concerns over high gas prices, the struggling housing industry and the shaky economy in general.

The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Gramm's departure will make little difference to McCain's economic policies.

"The question for John McCain isn't whether Phil Gramm will continue as chairman of his campaign, but whether he will continue to keep the economic plan that Gramm authored and that represents a continuation of the policies that have failed American families for the last eight years," said Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan.

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