As the Mark Foley Congressional Page scandal escalates and various attempts by Republicans to stem it spiral out of control, a new poll shows more than half of Americans suspect a coverup and polls in various House and Senate races show GOP prospects of retaining control of Congress fading.
Fading, also, are the political fortunes of embattled Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, whose conflicting stories on how he mishandled the Foley affair have come to characterize the moral, ethical and leadership lapses of his party.
Bloomberg News reports:
More than half the U.S. public, or 52 percent, said House Speaker Dennis Hastert knew about a congressman’s inappropriate messages to teenagers and tried to cover the matter up, according to a new Newsweek poll.
Hastert has come under intense criticism for his handling of the scandal involving Representative Mark Foley, a Florida Republican. Foley resigned from Congress Sept. 29 after ABC News questioned him about sexually explicit electronic messages sent to male pages.
Pro-Republican groups and some party lawmakers have said Hastert, 62, an Illinois Republican, should have acted more forcefully when informed of other, less explicit Foley e-mails to another page. Hastert said he hadn’t done anything wrong at an Oct. 6 news conference.
The magazine’s poll, taken Oct. 5-6, found 53 percent of respondents said they would like Democrats to win control of Congress in the Nov. 7 election, while 35 percent favor Republicans. Republican President George W. Bush’s approval rating fell to a record low of 33 percent in the Newsweek poll, a three-point drop from Newsweek’s Aug. 24-25 poll.
The poll also marks the first time that a majority of Americans, 53 percent, said they believe that the Bush administration purposely misled the public about evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to build support for the U.S.- led invasion to oust dictator Saddam Hussein, Newsweek said.
Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted the poll 1,004 adults for Newsweek. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Write Michael Grunwald and Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post:
Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.) was trying to talk about security Friday at bustling Port Everglades, but with planes roaring overhead and containers slamming onto trucks, nobody could hear him.
That’s a common problem for Shaw and Republican candidates around the country these days — trying urgently 30 days before Election Day to frame a winning message but finding their efforts drowned out by the furor over former representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.).
"It’s sucking all the air out of the room," Shaw said in an interview after his news conference at the port. "It’s a tough time; there’s just total saturation right now."
Back in Washington, Republican strategists acknowledge privately that, even under their best-case scenario, Foley’s sexually charged messages and allegations that House leaders were too passive in responding to them will remain an all-consuming distraction for GOP campaigns for the next week.
Their strategy — equal parts hope and calculation — relies on waiting for the story to die down in local news outlets, even if it continues to dominate national news, while also accusing Democrats of exploiting a personal lapse for political gain.
In both parties, there is rough agreement among operatives that the impact of the Foley scandal is likely to be felt in two different ways.
There are several places where local factors could amplify the scandal’s destructive power against Republican candidates. Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R), who is facing questions about his own role in responding to reports of Foley’s conduct, is suddenly in a tough race against Democrat Jack Davis in an upstate New York district. In Pennsylvania, Republican Rep. Don Sherwood’s already troubled campaign hardly needed anything that might remind voters of his admission earlier this year that he had an affair with a woman who accused him of physical abuse.
Beyond these specific races, however, many strategists in both parties believe the scandal might echo principally as a metaphor for a GOP leadership that over the past year has drawn more attention for ethical lapses and partisan turmoil than legislative achievements.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted after the revelations found 63 percent of voters "dissatisfied" or "angry" with House Republican leaders, and 73 percent disapproving of the job Congress is doing. In a Time magazine poll, 68 percent said the scandal will have no effect on their vote, but only 16 percent said GOP leaders handled it appropriately.
"People aren’t going to vote on this issue, but it’s given people an easy way to think about everything they’re unhappy about," said Democratic media consultant Anita Dunn.
And Charles Babington of The Post offers this:
Despite countless hours of TV coverage and reams of newspaper reporting on the House’s handling of the Mark Foley page scandal, numerous fundamental questions remain unanswered as the FBI and the House ethics committee begin their first full week of inquiries.
Gaps and inconsistencies in the public accounts include such basic matters as when House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and his top aides first learned of concerns about Foley’s relationships with male pages, and what they did about it. Also unclear is which GOP officials decided that only two members of the six-person House Page Board should confront the Florida lawmaker.
And accounts differ on whether the two board members knew the exact contents of e-mails Foley sent last year to a teenage boy in Louisiana. Those messages alarmed the boy and his parents and set into motion the events that eventually would uncover far more sexually graphic messages to other former pages, triggering Foley’s abrupt resignation a week ago.
Armed with subpoena power, investigators for the FBI and the ethics committee will pursue scores of questions, almost surely including:
Who decided to keep word of the Louisiana e-mails closely held, so that only a handful of House Republicans — and no Democrats — knew of them?
Did Trandahl and Shimkus know exactly what the e-mails to the Louisiana boy said?
How did House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) handle word of the Louisiana e-mails?
Did Hastert know about the e-mails to the Louisiana boy?
Was Hastert’s staff alerted to earlier concerns about Foley’s behavior toward teenage pages?