MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Idaho Republican Larry Craig is staying in the U.S. Senate for the remainder of his term. At least that's what he said today. A few weeks ago, Craig had promised to resign at the end of September, then he said he would resign only if he was not allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to a charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
Today, as expected, a Minnesota judge rejected the senator's bid to withdraw his plea. But Craig now says he'll stay in office another 15 months.
Joining me now from the Capitol is NPR's congressional correspondent, David Welna. David, first, remind us how it came to be that Larry Craig pled guilty to disorderly conduct.
DAVID WELNA: Well, Michele, this all began last June when a plainclothes policeman at the Minneapolis airport accused Craig of first, peeking into a men's bathroom stall that the cop was in, and then occupying the next stall, and tapping his foot, which then touched the cop's foot, and waving his hand below the stall divider. And at that point, the cop arrested Craig and charged him with disorderly conduct. And Craig, in what seemed to be an attempt to keep the incident quiet, pleaded guilty to that charge by mail, almost two months later.
NORRIS: Now, as we mentioned earlier today, a Minneapolis judge refused to throw out Craig's conviction for disorderly conduct. What does that ruling say?
WELNA: Well, it says Craig could only withdraw his guilty plea if it were necessary to correct what the court calls a manifest in justice. And that could only occur ahead Craig's plea not been made accurately, voluntarily, or intelligently. And the judge maintained that Craig knew full well what he was doing when he pleaded guilty, so he refused to throw up the guilty plea.
NORRIS: So Craig has changed his mind about resigning and says he'll stay in office for another 15 months. What reasons does he give?
WELNA: He basically gave two reasons. One was that after nearly 17 years in the Senate, he's accumulated a lot of seniority and choice committee assignments that are valuable to the people of Idaho, and a replacement for him would be unlikely to get similar posts in the Senate. The other reason he gave was that he wants to clear his name before the Senate Ethics Committee, which is currently carrying out a probe of the bathroom incident and his guilty plea at the request of his fellow Republicans, I should add. And he maintains it would not be possible for him to do that if he were to leave the Senate now.
NORRIS: It's been widely reported that he's getting the cold shoulder in the Senate, that his colleagues would really like him to go. What have they been saying? Did they add anything to this discussion today?
WELNA: Well, you know, it's actually Craig's Republican colleagues who want him to go, with a few notable exceptions, such as fellow Idaho Republican Mike Crapo, who says he stands by Craig's decision to stay and Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter who says Craig's disorderly conduct plea is not moral turpitude as Specter put it, nor a reason to leave the Senate. But they're clearly in the minority in their party and the rest would have loved to see Craig leave, as he promised he would, mainly to put what's been really an acutely embarrassing episode behind them.
John Ensign, the Nevada Republican who's job is to win more seats for the Republicans next year, called on Craig today to quit and spare everyone the ordeal of a Senate Ethics investigation.
NORRIS: David, there's also some pressure from home, back in Idaho. Idaho Governor Butch Otter said today that he was ready to name a replacement. I guess that's now on hold.
WELNA: Yeah. It is, for now. You know, I guess it's possible that Craig could still change his mind - he's changed his mind several times in this whole episode - and leave the Senate before his term expires, since most of his Republican colleagues have been treating him for the past three weeks that he's been here as if he is contagious with something.
And they've also stripped him of his seniority on the committees he serves on and - or the Senate could force him to quit, but that would take a two-thirds vote. And I think most Democrats figure it's to their advantage that Craig remains and keeps the Republicans on edge. It's also possible that the state of Idaho could recall him, but opinion there seems to be somewhat divided. A lot of people still like him as their senator.
NORRIS: Thank you, David.
WELNA: You're welcome, Michele.
NORRIS: That was NPR's David Welna.
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