Hear NPR's Martin Kaste and Scott Simon
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