Foley Allegations Put GOP into Political Tailspin

The past week saw the Republicans plunge into a political tailspin over revelations regarding former congressman Mark Foley. Will the Foley scandal end the Republican majority in Congress?

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

The election year political terrain is completely different today than it was a week ago. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the usually inconspicuous leader of congressional Republicans, has been thrown into the spotlight and on the defensive. The scandal involving salacious e-mails to teenaged congressional pages from former Congressman Mark Foley has jeopardized Hastert's job and Republican control of Congress.

NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin, is here to help us reassess the situation.

Ken, give us the big picture here.

KEN RUDIN: Well, the Republican Party clearly is in trouble. Democrats need 15 seats to take control of the House, six in the Senate. The terrain was bad for the Republicans to begin with, given the unpopularity of the Iraq War, President Bush's polling numbers, things like that.

SEABROOK: This has been building for a long time.

RUDIN: Exactly. So and then - and Democrats were pretty close to attaining their goal. But this could push the Democrats over the top, given the fact that the Republican base is now dispirited over this thing, given the fact that the Republican leadership in the House may have known about this scandal far longer than they admitted, and given the fact that now it's spreading out to Republicans candidates around the country who are suddenly finding themselves another issue to be on the defensive over.

SEABROOK: And so the consequences - as you write in your Political Junkie column on npr.org. - is that the Republicans could lose reign over - their reign over Congress.

RUDIN: They could, because suddenly, first of all, you already had 20, 25 Republican seats in the House in jeopardy. But now you have new seats. Mark Foley's seat in Florida, gone. Mark Foley's name is on the ballot, even though there's a new Republican nominee. The specter of voters going in to vote for Mark Foley's name, not going to happen.

SEABROOK: Not going to happen.

RUDIN: Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the Republican Congressional Committee up in Buffalo, New York, he's part of the leadership on the defensive. He could lose his seat, which is...

SEABROOK: Amazing for a guy who's in charge of re-electing Republicans around the country.

RUDIN: Exactly. And a matter of fact, Tom Reynolds has always talked about wanting to be Speaker one day. I think not.

There's an open congressional seat in Minnesota, where Patty Wetterling, the Democratic nominee - this is a Republican seat - but Patty Wetterling's son, her 11-year-old son was abducted 16, 17 years ago. The issue of the treatment of underage children is resonating in that district, a Republican district, and Patty Wetterling could win that seat.

SEABROOK: Huh. So Ken, describe what Democrats are doing - if anything - to take advantage of this situation. They're not always good at that.

RUDIN: No, but - very true. But they are trying to do what they can to take advantage of it. Just like the Democrats in 1974, they were trying to link all the Republicans to President Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Many of the Democrats now are trying to link Republicans to either Mark Foley or Speaker Hastert. A lot of them are demanding of their Republican opponent, you must insist on the resignation of Speaker Hastert.

This really may affect turnout in November, because a lot of Republican social conservatives who really saw a difference once upon a time between the Democrats and the Republicans, are saying if the GOP leadership knew about a sex scandal like this and did nothing about it, then why stay with the Republican Party? We'll stay home in November. And that could very well jeopardize Republican control.

SEABROOK: So Ken, what do the Republicans do now?

RUDIN: Well, the Republicans obviously are in a quandary. A week ago, they thought they were on the ascendancy. President Bush was going around the country giving speeches, trying to make the case that the Republican Party was better to be trusted on issues of national security, homeland security. President Bush's poll numbers went up.

SEABROOK: Yup.

RUDIN: Approval of Republicans in Congress inched up a little bit, not a lot, but a little bit. But once this scandal broke, all the Republican Party plans seemed to go down the drain.

SEABROOK: NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin, thank you so much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Andrea.

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