No mercy for Craig from fellow Republicans
(Update at bottom: McCain, Coleman among leading Republicans to call for resignation; Craig steps down from Senate committee assignments)
Republican Senate leaders are requesting an Ethics Committee investigation into GOP Sen. Larry Craig’s arrest in a Minneapolis airport bathroom--a rare move which signifies more harsh intra-party criticism may loom for the senator in the coming days.
Arrested on June 11 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by a plainclothes officer investigating reported sexual activities in the facility’s bathroom, Sen. Craig’s denials of any wrongdoing have done little to dissuade heavy disapproval from top Republicans, reports Kathy Kiely in USA Today.
In a prepared statement released by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and top deputies including Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the ranking Republican characterized Craig’s arrest as a “serious matter” and added that “leadership is examining other aspects of the case to determine if additional action is required.” As reported by USA Today, the only signature notably absent from the statement was Texas Senator John Cornyn’s, who is the vice chairman of the ethics panel which will investigate the case.
Even as Idaho Republican Party Chairman Kirk Sullivan cautioned the senator’s Idaho constituents to “avoid rushing to judgment,” former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney--whose presidential candidacy was supported by Sen. Craig--was quick to condemn Craig in a Tuesday interview with CNBC, according to the Washington Post.
Calling the senator’s actions “very disappointing,” Romney said “[h]e's no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine. He resigned just today. And you know, he was one of those who was helping my effort, and I'm sorry to see that he has fallen short."
Going on to compare Sen. Craig’s apparent conduct with Republican Congressman Mark Foley and President Bill Clinton, Romney continued, adding “we've seen disappointment in the White House, we've seen it in the Senate, we've seen it in Congress. And frankly, it's disgusting."
Fellow presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), called the case "disgraceful" during a Tuesday appearance on NBC's "Tonight Show With Jay Leno," the Associated Press reported.
Also critical are the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay party members whose president, Patrick Sammon, said in a statement that Craig "owes the people of Idaho a more credible explanation than what he has provided,” adding that “[i]nnocent people don't plead guilty."
“Craig's is one of 21 Senate seats that Republicans will try to defend next year as voters disenchanted with President Bush and the Iraq war head to the polls,” political analyst Stu Rothenberg told USA Today. “It could get interesting real quickly.”
Craig steps down from committee assignments as calls for resignation mount
Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Larry Craig temporarily stepped down from his Senate committee assignments amid calls for his resignation from top Republicans.
"I believe that he pleaded guilty, and he had the opportunity to plead innocent," Arizona Senator John McCain said, according to CNN. "So, I think he should resign. My opinion is that when you plead guilty to a crime you shouldn't serve."
Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman echoed the call, saying "Senator Craig pled guilty to a crime involving conduct unbecoming a senator. He should resign."
GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan also issued a statement, saying, "The voters of Idaho elected Senator Craig to represent their state and will decide his future in 2008 should he fail to resign...[h]owever, he also represents the Republican party, and I believe he should step down as his conduct throughout this matter has been inappropriate for a U.S. Senator."
CNN's political ticker posted the following statement written by top Republicans Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Whip Trent Lott, Conference Chairman Jon Kyl, Policy Committee Chair Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Senatorial Committee Chair John Ensign:
"Senator Larry Craig has agreed to comply with Leadership’s request that he temporarily step down as the top Republican on the Veteran Affairs Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, and Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests. This is not a decision we take lightly but we believe this is in the best interest of the Senate until this situation is resolved by the Ethics Committee."