Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho pleaded guilty in June to lewd conduct in a restroom.
Perhaps the most relieved Republican in the country this week is Alberto Gonzales. On the day the much-maligned attorney general announced his resignation, spurring renewed examination of his controversial tenure, the news was quickly overtaken by that staple of Washington news coverage: a congressional sex scandal.
But for a Republican Party already facing an uphill battle in the 2008 elections – with an unpopular president, unpopular war, and several other legislators already in trouble – the latest bad news presents yet another blow to a GOP struggling to defend its image as the defender of family values. On Monday, news broke that Sen. Larry Craig (R) of Idaho was arrested in June in a Minneapolis airport restroom for alleged lewd behavior and pleaded guilty earlier this month to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.
The three-term senator says his guilty plea was a mistake and that he is not gay. But his party is not giving him the benefit of the doubt. In short order, the Senate Republican leadership requested a Senate ethics investigation into the case and stripped Senator Craig of his committee assignments.
At least two senators have called on Craig to resign. The harshest reaction of all came from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) whose presidential campaign Craig had served as a Senate liaison. Before Craig could come forward on Tuesday with his first public statement on the incident, Mr. Romney was raising analogies to the sexual improprieties of President Clinton (D) and former Rep. Mark Foley (R) of Florida.
"What you're seeing in some of the reaction is the lessons learned from last time with Foley and [the party leadership's] response to that," says Republican pollster David Winston.