Idaho Sen. Larry Craig Announces Resignation

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) announces Saturday that he will resign from the U.S. Senate at the end of the month. Sen. Craig has been dogged by a sex scandal that has caused the Republican Party to ostracize him.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

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

Senator LARRY CRAIG (Representative, Idaho): To Idahoans, I represent, to my staff, my Senate colleagues, but most importantly, to my wife and my family, I apologize for what I have caused. I'm deeply sorry.

SIMON: Senator Larry Craig of Idaho held a news conference today. As expected, he announced he would resign effective September 30th. After issuing his apology to his family and others, Mr. Craig said that he is stepping down because pursuing a legal case surrounding his arrest in an airport men's room in Minneapolis would be, quoted, "unfair distraction."

NPR's Martin Kaste joins us from Boise.

Martin, thanks for being with us.

MARTIN KASTE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what are the senator's legal options because he's already pled guilty?

KASTE: I think most people - most legal experts agree there aren't many options here. I think a lot of people are listening to him say that in part - as part of - just sort of his exit strategy here. It's really a somber case. I mean, this morning, we just watched him announce his resignation in (unintelligible) overlooking Boise. And it was a pretty, pretty quiet, somber crowd.

Some of his supporters showed up. One would compare it to an execution, political execution. And the Democrats were watching here on from the sidelines also are not celebrating, at least not publicly. So I think when he says he is resigning to pursue his legal options, well, he may have that but reversing a guilty plea is very difficult and I think if nothing else, it does allow him to save a little face as he resigns here.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Do you have any idea about why the resignation is effective September 30th, what he would hope to do over the next month?

KASTE: What he's talking about is a transition. He wants an orderly transition to his replacement - whoever that may be. The governor here will choose the next interim senator until - to serve out the rest of his term.

So I think the rationale there is sort of just have an orderly transition of staff, you know, issues and that kind of things, the senator's very involved in agricultural issues and questions of immigration reform. So I think they want to be able to transfer some of that know-how and expertise in staff to a new person.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. And, Martin, any - would you consider solid reports as to who might replace Senator Craig?

KASTE: Nothing attributable to anyone who will go on the record here, but all bets right now, locally, are on Jim Riche, who's lieutenant governor right now, and who is very politically ambitious and who is thought to be preparing to run for this office anyway if Craig were to resign.

SIMON: Martin Kaste in Boise, thanks very much.

KASTE: You're welcome.

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Idaho Sen. Larry Craig Resigns Amid Sex Scandal

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

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