The price of victory, Part 2

October 03, 2006

Last fall must have been agonizing for House Republican leaders.

Long-time Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham was about to plead guilty to the charge of accepting bribes from defense contractors seeking official favors. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had been indicted in Texas in a political corruption scheme. Federal investigators were pursuing former DeLay aides and other lawmakers in connection with a scam to bilk lobbying clients of DeLay ally Jack Abramoff. Then came word that parents of a former House page had complained about e-mail contacts from Florida Rep. Mark Foley that made their teenage son uncomfortable.

But unlike the other assaults on the party's reputation and re-election prospects, the Foley matter could be swept under the rug, for a while at least. And so it was. No amount of defensive backpedaling by House leaders explains why they notified the Republican chairman of the board charged with overseeing the page program but not his Democratic counterpart, other than to ensure the complaint would be kept quiet.

In the growing catalog of missteps, misdeeds and misconduct by the Republican-led Congress, its handling of the Foley matter has been particularly egregious. The sexually explicit nature of Mr. Foley's electronic contacts with other former pages may not have become known to House leaders until last week, but that doesn't excuse their failure to more fully explore the earlier complaint. House leaders didn't even ask Mr. Foley to surrender co-chairmanship of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, but simply instructed him to cease contact with the offended young man.

Republican leaders didn't investigate further because they obviously didn't want to learn anything that could dislodge a popular colleague from his secure seat. Keeping the House majority was a higher priority than ensuring the safety of teenage pages entrusted to congressional care.

So now, when all those other scandals have faded into distant memory, Mr. Foley has suddenly resigned, and his seat may be lost anyway. Looks like another agonizing autumn, richly deserved.

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