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Louisiana Sen. David Vitter will probably emerge from seclusion soon and return to Washington to fight for his political career, a colleague of the first-term Republican said Friday.
When Vitter does, he is sure to be confronted with his past remarks about the sanctity of marriage, the importance of fidelity and the need for high ethical standards among office holders.
In a statement last Monday night, Vitter apologized for committing a “very serious sin in my past,” acknowledging that his Washington phone number was among those called several years ago by an escort service that prosecutors say was a prostitution operation. Telephone records show that the service called Vitter’s number five times from 1999 to 2001, while he was a U.S. House member.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., told reporters Friday that, based on e-mail exchanges with Vitter, he expects his colleague to return to the Capitol by Tuesday. Vitter, 46, missed votes on Iraq policy matters on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
DeMint said of Vitter’s admission: “It’s a huge moral failure that reflects on the whole body. And for that he’s very sorry.”
Several GOP colleagues in Washington and Louisiana have rallied to Vitter’s side, saying politicians deserve forgiveness when they err and repent. Some opponents have accused him of hypocrisy, noting that his career is built largely on an image as someone more ethical than the average politician.
Vitter, a married father of four, last month urged colleagues to devote more federal spending to programs urging sexual abstinence among teens. The best way to avert teen pregnancy, he wrote, is “by teaching teenagers that saving sex until marriage and remaining faithful afterwards is the best choice for health and happiness.”
In a June 2006 Senate speech supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, Vitter said it was “well overdue that we in the Senate focus on nurturing, upholding, preserving and protecting such a fundamental social institution as traditional marriage.”
On Friday night, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who ran the escort service and whose phone records led to Vitter’s problems, said she was “disgusted at the hypocrisy” of the senator’s comments about gay marriage.
“How dare someone dictate one thing and practice another, and in the process deny so many in this country the opportunity for happiness,” said Palfrey. “In particular, I’m talking about dictating what constitutes a family. What constitutes a family is love, pure and simple.”
A lengthy 1999 profile of Vitter in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans was headlined, “Straight arrow aims for Congress.”
Several lawmakers including Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., publicly accused Vitter of hypocrisy this week. Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt reveled in his role in unearthing Vitter’s phone records, saying, “I’m only exposing the hypocrisy.”
Roger Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, said Friday he had tried to get in touch with Vitter without success. Villere said he’d been inundated with e-mails from Republicans, most of them supporting Vitter. A “vocal minority” is voicing opposition, he said.
Also Friday, people close to Vitter confirmed that he sent an e-mail to supporters earlier this week saying: “I … deeply apologize again for letting you and others down. … Our family will be fine, though we certainly appreciate your continuing thoughts and prayers.”
Vitter, a Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar, moved rapidly from the Louisiana legislature to the U.S. House and then the Senate, thanks largely to his repeated attacks on what he portrayed as ethical shortcomings of his opponents. He assailed their junkets, ties to casino gambling and use of a tax-paid scholarship program.
The 1999 Times-Picayune profile called him “the boyish-looking, straight-laced freshman state representative” who was “sometimes lampooned as a Boy Scout in adult life.” It said he hammered everyone “who didn’t pass Vitter’s ethical muster. Along the way, he made some powerful enemies. … Even some of Vitter’s fellow Republicans privately groused that he was a grandstander.”
Vitter’s allies say they will try to help him regain some of his luster.
“The past conduct that Sen. Vitter has acknowledged and taken responsibility for is serious and disappointing,” Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., said in a statement Friday, “but it does not define the whole of the man, and it is not irredeemable.”
Associated Press reporters Kevin McGill in New Orleans and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.