Senate a Lonely Place for Larry Craig
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
What's it like to be a pariah in the world's most exclusive club? Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig is finding out. 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 will finish his term off fighting to clear his name. In August, Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men's room.
As NPR's David Welna reports, Craig's resolve to remain in the Senate has left fellow Republicans little leverage to remove him.
DAVID WELNA: Senator Larry Craig's estrangement from his own party was on full display this week during a Senate roll call vote.
NORRIS: Mr. Martinez? Mr. Martinez, aye. Mr. DeMint? Mr. DeMint, aye. Mr. Roberts?
WELNA: As fellow Republicans cast their votes, Craig strolled down an aisle in the Senate chamber and walked past them to cast his.
Unidentified Man: Mr. Craig, aye. Mr. Tester, aye.
WELNA: 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 Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson came to the rescue and greeted him warmly.
Nelson later expressed sympathy when asked about his solitary colleague.
BEN NELSON: As a human being, you are always feeling for other human beings who are hurting. And he's gone through a very hurtful period.
WELNA: But Craig's fellow Republicans are less willing to cut him some slack. South Dakota's John Thune was one of the first GOP senators to call for Craig's resignation.
JOHN THUNE: Everybody is saying this, but it's true that we've got a process in the Senate to deal with this. And the Ethics Committee is going to be looking into it. And I'm sure they'll be making some recommendations or drawing some conclusions that, at that time, the rest of the Senate will have an opportunity to respond to.
WELNA: Republican Senate leaders asked the Ethics panel in late August to probe Craig's conduct. But nothing has yet come out of the review it agreed to carry out.
California Democrat Barbara Boxer chairs the committee.
BARBARA BOXER: 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.
WELNA: Yeah. And when do you think that might be?
BOXER: I have - I don't know. We have no idea how long these things take. But, you know, obviously, as expeditiously as we can move.
WELNA: Efforts to pry something out of the panel's top Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, proved equally unproductive.
JOHN CORNYN: As much as I would love to answer your question, I am, I'm not - those proceedings are confidential by Ethics' rules and so I'm - I can't. And I have to leave it at that.
WELNA: 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 in an incident that had nothing to do with official business.
Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says the panel must also consider a recent FBI raid on the home of GOP Senator Ted Stevens and Louisiana Republican David Vitter's public admission that he'd patronized a call-girl service.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN: 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.
WELNA: Still Nevada Republican John Ensign insists Senators Stevens and Vitter are what he calls completely different situations.
JOHN ENSIGN: The fact remains that Senator 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.
WELNA: Craig has been avoiding reporters here. But on Wednesday, he did attend a hearing of the Veterans Affairs Committee where he was the top Republican, until being replaced last month by a first-term colleague. Craig put on a brave face as he greeted former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole who was testifying.
LARRY CRAIG: If Bob hadn't said, Larry, there's work to be done on the Veterans Affairs Committee, a good number of years ago, and you ought to go do it, I might not be here.
WELNA: And here he remains.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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