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Craig Set to Join Flurry of GOP Exits

Craig Set to Join Flurry of GOP Exits

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Republican political departures are keeping Washington in the spotlight during what is often a quiet time for politics. Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is expected to resign Saturday in the wake of a sex scandal and Virginia Sen. John Warner announced Friday he will not run for a sixth term.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

In Washington, D.C., Labor Day weekend marks the end of the August doldrums, the beginning of a busy fall season for politics in government. That's the way it's supposed to work, but this August the political grit has never cooled down even for a week. And we certainly can't expect the holiday weekend to be much cooler.

We're joined now by NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving.

Ron, thanks very much for being with us.

RON ELVING: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: What's keeping people who were in politics focused this particular weekend? There must be - there are six or seven things we could talk about.

ELVING: Indeed, but most immediately, of course, it's Senator Larry Craig, the conservative Republican from Idaho. His resignation is expected to come later today. He's already essentially been given three stages of notice that he's not welcome back.

First of all, the Senate Republicans said they were going to have the ethics committee investigate him, that was right - the first day. Then the second thing was they stripped him of seniority with respect to his committee assignments -that's essentially a death sentence for a senator.

And then there were a number of calls for him to resign without any visible signs of support. His own Senate Republican leader said his behavior had been unforgivable.

SIMON: It is like 45 years since Walter Jenkins, Lyndon Johnson's very close aide for many years in the White House, had to resign because of being found of - public restroom, I believe in the YMCA in Washington, D.C.

ELVING: YMCA downtown here in Washington.

SIMON: Are the American people just more affected by reports of gay sex than heterosexual adultery?

ELVING: I believe there's been a great deal of change over those 45 years in the American people. I'm not sure it's fully reflected in their elected representatives. A year ago, the Republicans in the House were hit by the Mark Foley scandal, which was a gay scandal, and many of them feel to this day cost them control of the Congress in the election in November.

So hit with another gay scandal now, they are reacting with a level of outrage and a level of non-forgiveness that we did not see when another Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, was caught up in the D.C. Madam scandal.

He was not, in any way, shape or form, drummed out of the club, as Larry Craig has been. And I think people can draw their own conclusions from that.

SIMON: At least a couple of other prominent Republicans are leaving, too.

ELVING: John Warner, 80 years old, a 30-year veteran of the Senate, longtime chairman of the Armed Services Committee and recently a voice for beginning, at least, a partial withdrawal from Iraq. Tony Snow, the president's...

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: secretary, someone who has been perhaps the most successful spokesman for George W. Bush that he has had. And, of course Alberto Gonzales, the president's attorney general. And yesterday was also the last day in the White House for Karl Rove, the president's principal political adviser.

SIMON: I want to ask while we have the chance about the presidential primary season that seems to be coming, I wouldn't be surprised if the first vote is by the end of next week at this particular point. I mean, when will this madness cease?

ELVING: Well, it will not cease in this cycle. Clearly, the parties have lost control of their own monster here. But it's not clear how that system comes about. Congress doesn't have the authority. The parties obviously cannot enforce discipline on their individual state parties. It's not clear where the discipline is going to come from.

SIMON: I want to ask you about campaign fundraising. A well-known contributor, Norman Hsu, actually turned himself over on an arrest warrant on Friday. This is somebody who's - has generously contributed money to the campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton, but not just Senator Clinton's campaign.

ELVING: Yes, it's a nasty bruise, too, for Barack Obama who's been trying to run a-cleaner-than-thou campaign thus far. And he's going to have to give some money back from Norman Hsu. This is another embarrassment for these candidates because they're obviously out there grubbing for money from everybody they can get it from.

And while they do have a vetting process, obviously they're eager to have the vetting process turn these people up clean and not dirty. So everyone's going to have to go back to their process and say, we've got to get tougher.

SIMON: Thanks very much. NPR's Ron Elving.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

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Idaho Sen. Larry Craig Resigns Amid Sex Scandal

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Idaho Republican Larry Craig resigned Saturday from the U.S. Senate in the wake of a sex scandal that caused his party to ostracize him as its members feared the incident could hamper their re-election prospects.

"It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce it is my intent to resign from the Senate Sept. 30," said Craig in a news conference in Boise.

"In doing so, I hope to allow a smooth and orderly transition of my loyal staff and of the person appointed to take my place," he continued.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter attended the news conference but did not immediately name a replacement for the remaining 15 months of Craig's term in the Senate.

Despite nearly two decades in the venerable chamber, Craig lost the support of fellow Republicans after news that he was arrested in June in a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. Police were targeting the airport's men's bathroom because of complaints of lewd behavior there.

Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in August. He managed to evade media notice both times. But when he was finally found out, he became an object of national derision, not so much for his offense as for his defense.

Having been caught soliciting a male undercover officer, Craig initially pleaded guilty. But now he says he erred in doing so and was only trying to hide the incident from the media.

"I apologize for what I have caused. I am deeply sorry," he said, but added that he has "little control over what people choose to believe."

Craig said he is stepping aside to fight to redeem his name.

"To pursue my legal options, as I continue to serve Idaho would be an unwanted and unfair distraction from my job and for my Senate colleagues. The people of Idaho deserve a senator who can devote 100 percent of his time and effort to the critical issues of our state and of our nation," he added.

Outraged GOP Forsakes Comrade

GOP leaders weren't willing to support Craig. They stripped him of leadership duties on Wednesday, a day after calling for an investigation of his actions by the Senate Ethics Committee, and repeatedly called for his resignation.

There may have been a time when Craig's party would have rallied around — or at least dropped a cone of silence over — any embattled member of its ranks.

But the image of the party that heralds decency, family values and faith-based initiatives has become sorely tarnished lately. Mostly recently, Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, apologized in July for his use of a D.C. "escort service."

Nearly a year ago, six-term Rep. Mark Foley, a Republican from Florida, resigned after reports that he had sent sexually explicit Internet messages to an underage male former page.

Craig to Stay Through September

Sen. Craig opted to bow out at the end of the month in order to avoid becoming a hindrance. He said the ongoing war in Iraq and other business of the government requires the Senate's full attention.

In thanking Idahoans for allowing him to serve in the Congress he also asked for their forgiveness.

"Each day, week, year brought new challenges to create a better life for Idahoans. I hope you do not regret the confidence you have placed in me over all of these years," he said.

The three-term Republican senator maintains that he did nothing wrong, and is adamant about his sexuality. "I am not gay. I never have been gay," he said in a news conference earlier in the week.

But he admits to the mistake of pleading guilty without consulting a lawyer.

Idaho Governor to Pick Craig's Replacement

Craig was up for re-election next year.

Idaho is one of the nation's most reliably Republican states. The GOP controls the statehouse and all four seats in Congress, and President Bush carried the state in 2004 with 68 percent of the vote.

Gov. Otter was reportedly expected to tap James Risch, the lieutenant governor, to replace Craig.

Risch served for seven months as governor last year after former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was named interior secretary. Risch had said earlier he was interested in Craig's Senate seat if Craig did not seek re-election in 2008.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press