Sen. Larry Craig’s decision to remain in the Senate has outraged Republican senators, who hope to force out the disgraced senator.
When Craig spoke with Republican colleagues after announcing his decision, only two of the 45 senators present applauded his defense of his conduct in a men’s room at the Minneapolis airport, according to one source.
“Members are making it known publicly and privately that they think he should resign,” said an aide to a key Republican member. “He is being treated as a pariah. When senators see him, they walk in the other direction. He is bringing down the party and providing Democrats with an issue. He is embarrassing the whole Senate by remaining. It is an act of pure selfishness.”
Craig, 62, was arrested June 11 in a men's room in the Minneapolis airport by an undercover officer. The officer said Craig exhibited behavior consistent with seeking a sexual encounter. On Aug. 1, he pleaded guilty by mail to disorderly conduct.
The Idaho senator first said he intended to resign on Sept. 30. After some prodding from Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, Craig then said he would remain in the Senate as his legal case continued.
Last week, Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter ruled: “Because the defendant’s plea was accurate, voluntary and intelligent, and because the conviction is supported by the evidence ... the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea is denied.”
Craig then changed course again, saying he does not plan to leave office until his term expires in January 2009.
“I am innocent of the charges against me,” he said in a statement.
“Senator Craig gave us his word” that he would resign by Sept. 30 if he could not overturn the guilty plea, said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who chairs the GOP campaign committee overseeing next year’s Senate elections. “I wish he would stick to his word.”
“It’s embarrassing for the Senate; it’s embarrassing for his party,” Ensign said.
Asked for his opinion, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said, “You don’t want to know what I really feel.” DeMint is chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, a caucus that includes the majority of the Republican Conference, the organization of all Republican senators.
Shunned though he is, Craig has a few defenders, including Republican Sens. Michael D. Crapo, also of Idaho, and Specter. Both said Craig was within his rights to remain and try to clear his name.
“Senator Craig is entitled to make his decision and I respect it,” Specter said. “Disorderly conduct is not moral turpitude, and it is no basis for leaving the Senate.”
While the U.S. Constitution provides that two-thirds of the members of the House or Senate may expel one of its members, since 1789 the Senate has expelled only 15 members, all but one for supporting the Confederacy. Yet, said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., “Clearly, his ability to serve his people was severely compromised.”
The bipartisan Senate ethics panel is gearing up for possible hearings into Craig’s case, a step requested by Republican leaders when they were trying to persuade the senator to step down. Some senators hope that the prospect of tough hearings will lead him to resign. But Craig is said to be oblivious to warnings or advice from friends and advisors.
If the hearings are public and air still more seamy details, it will mark another setback for the GOP.
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