Idaho’s senior Republican congressman called on Sen. Larry Craig on Thursday to make it clear he will leave his seat by Sept. 30, as GOP leaders sought to remove any doubt that the embattled senator will resign within weeks.
Craig’s chief spokesman said his boss had dropped virtually all notions of trying to finish his third term, which ends in early 2009. But prominent Republicans in Washington and Idaho wanted a firm deadline in hopes of putting the controversy behind them.
Craig pleaded guilty in August to disorderly conduct following a sting operation in a men’s bathroom at the Minneapolis airport, but he said this week he hoped to withdraw the plea. He also hinted he was rethinking his weekend announcement that he intended to resign by month’s end.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, told The Associated Press that Craig should make his resignation unequivocal so that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, also a Republican, can choose a replacement.
“If there is no vacancy there, he really doesn’t know what to do,” Simpson said. “This can’t go on for very long.”
Simpson said Craig “needs to make it clear that he is going to resign at the end of the month, so that Butch can make a replacement.”
Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said Thursday that the senator was focused on trying to clear his name and to help Idaho prepare for a replacement. “The most likely scenario, by far, is that by October there will be a new senator from Idaho,” Whiting told the AP.
The only circumstances in which Craig might try to complete his term, Whiting said, would require a prompt overturning of his conviction, as well as Senate GOP leaders’ agreement to restore the committee leaderships positions they took from him this week.
Those scenarios are unlikely, Whiting said.
Republican Senate leaders welcomed Whiting’s comments after a series of confusing signals from Craig’s circle. A prompt resignation would enable Republicans to sidestep one of the several ethics dilemmas they face this fall, and avoid the embarrassment of dealing with a colleague who had been stripped of his committee leadership posts and urged to resign by party leaders.
It also would negate the need for a Senate ethics committee investigation, which GOP leaders had requested.
Even if Craig were to complete his term, Whiting said, he would not seek re-election in 2008.
For replacements, Otter said he was considering Lt. Gov. Jim Risch and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, both Republicans. He also named Simpson, but Simpson said he does not want to be considered for the job.
Whiting said Craig remains intent on clearing his name, and hopes to be able to withdraw the guilty plea he entered after a police report alleged he had solicited sex from a male officer at the Minneapolis airport in June. Legal scholars say it is difficult but not impossible to have a judge reconsider a guilty plea.
Whiting said Craig also wants the Senate ethics committee to consider his arguments while he is still in office. Craig’s lawyer, Stanley Brand, asked the bipartisan panel this week not to pursue a complaint because the events in Minneapolis were “wholly unrelated” to the senator’s official duties.
Committee action eventually would lead the Senate down a path of dealing with “a host of minor misdemeanors and transgressions,” Brand’s letter said.
The ethics committee’s leaders said Wednesday they would “continue to review” the complaint against Craig so long as he remained in office. But they noted that the committee has no jurisdiction over former senators.
An ethics committee member, who spoke Thursday on background because of confidentiality rules, said it would be virtually impossible to conduct an investigation in a few weeks, and therefore the panel will not act if Craig resigns soon.
Craig, 62, announced Saturday his intention to resign by Sept. 30, after the newspaper Roll Call published an account of his arrest and conviction. Most Senate Republican leaders praised his decision, and were alarmed by Craig’s subsequent change in tone.
On Wednesday they renewed their efforts to persuade him to step aside soon. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spoke by phone with Craig on Wednesday and later told reporters: “I thought he made the correct decision, the difficult but correct decision to resign” on Saturday. “That would still be my view today.”
Associated Press writer John Miller in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.