Senate a Lonely Place for Larry Craig

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) i i

hide captionSen. Larry Craig (R-ID), has received a chilly reception from his GOP colleagues since he announced he would not resign from the Senate.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID)

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), has received a chilly reception from his GOP colleagues since he announced he would not resign from the Senate.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

What's it like to be a pariah in the world's most exclusive club?

Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig would probably know. Cold shoulders from most of his GOP colleagues got even colder after Craig announced he no longer intends to resign his seat in the Senate. Instead, Craig says he'll finish his term while fighting to clear his name; in August, Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men's room.

Craig's estrangement from his own party was on full display this week during a Senate roll call vote. Not one of the many Republicans gathered on the Senate floor spoke to or even went near their Idaho colleague. He stood all alone until Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) came to the rescue and greeted him warmly.

Nelson later expressed sympathy when asked about his solitary colleague.

"As a human being, you're always feeling for other human beings who are hurting, and he's gone through a very hurtful period," Nelson said.

But Craig's fellow Republicans are less willing to cut him some slack. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) was one of the first GOP senators to call for Craig's resignation.

"We've got a process in the Senate to deal with this, and the Ethics Committee is going to be looking into it," Thune said.

Republican Senate leaders asked the ethics panel in late August to look into Craig's conduct. But nothing has yet come out of the review, which the panel agreed to carry out.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the committee, said, "Everyone will know when we're completed with the inquiry, because we'll either announce that we're not taking action or we'll announce that we're going to the next phase."

Boxer said she did not know how long it would take, but that the panel would move as expeditiously as possible.

Efforts to pry details of the inquiry from of the panel's top Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, proved equally unproductive. Cornyn said that Senate Ethics Committee rules protect the confidentiality of the investigation.

There are some who suspect the ethics panel is intentionally dragging its feet because it doesn't know quite what to do about Craig's guilty plea to misdemeanor disorderly conduct; the incident that had nothing to do with official business.

Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said the panel must also consider a recent FBI raid on the home of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), as well as the public admission from Rep. David Vitter (R-LA) that he had patronized a call-girl service.

"You can't focus on Craig without having the serious spotlight turn to Republican senators about why they aren't giving equal treatment to other ethical improprieties or allegations, and that's a part of the box they're in," Ornstein said.

Still, Rep. John Ensign (R-NV) says that Stevens and Vitter are "completely different situations."

"The fact remains that Craig pled guilty and came back to the Senate and said that he would resign at the end of September if his guilty plea wasn't overturned," Ensign said.

Craig has been avoiding reporters in the Capitol, but on Wednesday, he attended a hearing of the Veterans Affairs Committee, where he was the top Republican until he was replaced last month by a first-term colleague. Craig put on a brave face as he greeted former Republican majority leader Bob Dole, who was testifying.

"If Bob hadn't said, 'Larry, there's work to be done on the Veterans Affairs Committee'," according to Craig, "I might not be here."

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