Sex Scandal Prompts Sen. Larry Craig to Resign

Bowing to pressure from fellow Republicans, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig resigns Saturday over the fallout from a men's room sex sting. Debbie Elliott speaks with Martin Kaste about Craig's resignation, as well as which Republican contender might fill his spot.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

He watched one Republican after another abandon him. Today in Boise, Idaho's embattled Senator Larry Craig announced he will leave office at the end of the month.

Senator LARRY CRAIG (Republican, 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 am deeply sorry.

ELLIOTT: Joining us now from Boise, where Senator Craig made his announcement, is NPR's Martin Kaste.

Martin, this marks the end of a career for someone who's been a fixture in Idaho politics for 35 years. What was the scene there today?

MARTIN KASTE: Well, it was really something of an artificial media moment. It was all very pre-organized. There was this setting that the Craig staff picked out for the cameras, overlooking the city of Boise with the State Capitol Dome in the background and the mountains. It was all very picturesque but also very scripted. Senator Craig never departed from his script. And he didn't even break his stride more than half a second when a few hecklers broke out in the crowd and jeered him. So it was very much on message. No clear emotion visible here.

ELLIOTT: Did Senator Craig make any reference to the arrest in the men's room at the Minneapolis Airport?

KASTE: He didn't refer to it directly, except to say that he can't control what people think of him. He said his name is very important to him, of course. And he said, now, he would like to explore his legal options in terms of clearing his name. What that means, it's hard to say since most legal experts say it's very difficult to take back a guilty plea - in this case, it would be a disorderly conduct guilty plea - once you've made it. But certainly, he's interested in trying to clear his name in some way.

ELLIOTT: Larry Craig has seen virtually the entire Republican establishment pull away from him over this past week. Today, he did thank the few friends who remained by his side. Let's listen.

Sen. CRAIG: For any public official at this moment in time, to be standing with Larry Craig is, in itself, a humbling experience.

ELLIOTT: Martin, who was there?

KASTE: Well, there were local Republicans, state Republicans, nobody of national reputation visible because, really, national Republicans, as you say, have backed away from him. So I think most important to the senator was the presence of the governor - Republican Governor Butch Otter, who throughout this ordeal has refrained from criticizing Senator Craig in public and, even at one point, made a remark about how these events really show you who your friends are. So I think that his presence was very important to Senator Craig.

ELLIOTT: There is a sense that the Republican leaders in Washington wanted Larry Craig to resign. They did not want the scandal hanging over their heads during the upcoming election. What are you hearing from the constituents there in Idaho and the way they perceived the way this has played out?

KASTE: Well, I think that's right. People here really talk about how the final shove here came from Washington, D.C. Idaho Republicans were not supporting Larry Craig, but they were also not going after him publicly. It was a very, sort of, pained silence here. And as the week wore on, the unsourced reports in the wires and elsewhere about the imminence of his resignation were really coming out of Washington, D.C. There was a sense here that that drumbeat was a national drumbeat.

ELLIOTT: What happens now as far as naming a replacement for the senator?

KASTE: Well, that's up to the governor, Butch Otter. He, as a Republican, of course, will name another Republican. And the question here now is whether or not he picks a placeholder, as they say, some emeritus figure who'll just finish out the yearend change that Senator Craig would have left or whether he'll pick someone like the lieutenant governor, Jim Risch, who is politically ambitious and would likely run for reelection in his own right.

Obviously, the Democrats here would very much like to see a placeholder because they don't want to face an incumbent. You never want to do that. But I am pretty sure the governor was not going to listen to them on what they think he should do. I think we might be seeing here another very ambitious Republican taking Senator Craig's place.

ELLIOTT: Martin, Senator Craig said his resignation is effective on September 30th. Congress comes back to work next week after the long summer recess. Is there any indication of whether Senator Craig might show up for work next Tuesday?

KASTE: I think that's a really good question that we can't really answer right now. He's talked about this final month that he's given himself as a transition period. He'd like to move some of his staff over to the new person, whoever that may be. Whether he has to be there in person to do that is probably not necessary.

Whether or not there will be some crucial votes where the Republicans have to have him present, that might force the issue. If he does come back to the Capitol, I think it will be a very low-key visit.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Martin Kaste in Boise, Idaho. Thanks so 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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