As revelations over former Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s bizarre behavior gets more and more lurid, the pressure on Speaker of the House Dennis J. Hastert to resign increases. In addition, Republicans say more disclosures involving other members of Congress may be coming.
Even Hastert’s staunchest supporters say the embattled Speaker mishandled the Foley affair and Republicans scramble to distance themselves from their leader with the same determination they use to avoid their unpopular President.
The Speaker tells different stories at different times. On Rush Limbaugh’s radion show, he claimed the told Foley to resign. He later told a reporter he didn’t. GOP strategists say Hastert’s growing credibility problems may be the final nail in the GOP’s political coffin with just 34 days to go until the critical November elections.
Writes Carolyn Lochhead of The San Francisco Chronicle:
Five weeks before a midterm election, when Republicans are already on the ropes, the last thing the GOP needed was a homosexual pedophilia scandal.
Former Rep. Mark Foley’s salacious correspondence with teenage boys working as congressional pages is the kind of story that not only obliterates interest in whatever bills Congress passed before leaving town but promises to hit a much rawer public nerve than the corruption scandals that have already removed three Republicans from office this year.
It strikes especially hard at "values voters," the conservative Christians who make up the core of the Republican Party.
"This kind of thing just should not happen, and there is no excuse to justify it in any way," said Rev. Bob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, a politically active group of conservative church leaders.
"A big deal should be made of it, and we intend to make a big deal of it," he said. "We plan to address it in pulpits across the country, that this is an egregious moral violation, and we all will be held accountable."
The Associated Press reports:
The House page scandal engulfing former Rep. Mark Foley and House Republican leaders enters its sixth day with Speaker Dennis Hastert working to hold onto his job and the GOP rank and file worried that the pre-election drip, drip of damaging political news isn’t over yet.
The daily disclosures about Foley’s salacious Internet exchanges with former teenage congressional pages has GOP lawmakers and conservative activists fearing the foibles of other politicians may be exposed.
"People are very, very concerned," Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., said Tuesday night. "I think there are going to be more disclosures."
"We have heard rumors that other, similar activity has occurred involving additional congressmen and will be released prior to the November elections," said the Arlington Group, a coalition of 70 pro-family conservative groups.
Republicans are increasingly nervous about their November midterm election prospects and Hastert, R-Ill., is working to contain the fallout and retain his job as the scandal dominates the 24-hour news media and the Internet blogosphere.
"I’m not going to do that," Hastert said when asked Tuesday by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh whether he would quit his post.
President Bush, speaking at a Stockton, Calif., elementary school on Tuesday, said he was disgusted by the Foley revelations and voiced support for Hastert.
"I know that he wants all the facts to come out," the president said.
Conservatives debated whether Hastert should resign over his handling of the controversy.
Activist Richard A. Viguerie called for Hastert to step down. "The fact that they just walked away from this, it sounds like they were trying to protect one of their own members rather than these young boys," Viguerie said on Fox News.
Yet the Christian Coalition said it was standing behind Hastert, and Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter in support of Hastert, saying calls for the speaker to resign were "unwarranted and fundamentally unfair."
Hastert says he first heard details of the Foley matter last Friday when the story was breaking. The No. 2 House Republican, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, and House GOP campaign chair Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York said they had spoken with Hastert about a complaint concerning a former page from Louisiana last spring after being told about it by Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who had sponsored the teen.
Hastert sought to blame Democrats for leaking sexually explicit computer instant messages between Foley and former pages from 2003.
"Democrats have … put this thing forward to try to block us," Hastert told Limbaugh.
"It’s absolutely not true," countered House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
ABC News, which first reported on initial online exchanges from Foley that were questionable but not graphic, says sexually explicit messages reported last Friday were provided by former pages after its initial report Thursday.
ABC News said Tuesday it had obtained additional instant messages.
"Can I have a good kiss goodnight," Foley was said to have messaged in one. A boy responded with cyber symbols and "kiss."
In another message, Foley invited the teenager to his Capitol Hill town house "for a few drinks" even though he knew the boy was under the legal drinking age. "We may need to drink at my house so we dont get busted," Foley messaged.
Foley’s attorney, David Roth, said at a news conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday that he had no reason to believe that Foley "ever had teenage boys at his house to have alcohol."
Roth said Foley, 52, had himself been molested between the ages of 13 and 15 by a clergyman but added that Foley "does not blame the trauma he sustained as a young adolescent for his totally inappropriate e-mails" and instant messages. "He continues to offer no excuse whatsoever for his conduct."
Roth insisted Foley never had had sexual contact with a minor. He said the former Florida congressman, who had kept his sexual orientation private, wanted people now to know that he is gay.
The House ethics committee, meanwhile, scheduled its first meeting on Foley’s actions for Thursday, in closed session. The House voted last Friday to direct the ethics panel to inquire into the matter.
Foley resigned abruptly on Friday after being confronted with the 2003 instant message exchanges.
The FBI announced over the weekend it was opening a preliminary investigation into the matter.
Separately, Kirk Fordham, a Reynolds aide who was a longtime former aide to Foley, told The Associated Press of counseling Foley on Friday on how to deal with the developing story.
Fordham said when he learned the details of some of the instant messages, he confronted Foley.
"I said: ‘Are these authentic?’ and he said ‘probably’ and he confirmed that they were likely his instant messages," Fordham said.
Reynolds immediately said Foley had to resign and GOP campaign aides drafted a resignation letter.