Foley case may cost GOP, members say

Scandal impeding House Republicans' campaigns

October 09, 2006|By Mark Silva | Mark Silva,Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- The congressional page scandal involving the House's handling of former Rep. Mark Foley will make it more difficult for the Republican Party to maintain control of Congress in November, Republicans acknowledged yesterday, insisting that anyone responsible for covering up the scandal must be held accountable.

The scandal has already spilled into a congressional district far from the Florida home of the disgraced former congressman, who resigned Sept. 29 amid news reports of his sexually explicit communications with a House page.

New York Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, who serves as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee and maintains that he alerted House Speaker Dennis Hastert months ago about "overly friendly" e-mails that Foley had sent to a page, faces a tough re-election fight, according to a new poll. Reynolds is defending his role in the matter with a television ad.

Republicans, while cautioning that "30 days is an eternity" in the congressional campaigns leading to Election Day on Nov. 7, acknowledge that the scandal makes it difficult to make their own messages heard.

"There is a little window of opportunity [to regain control of the campaign], but it is closing in on us fast," Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois said yesterday on CBS' Face the Nation. "This is going to be the most difficult 30 days in the last 12 years that we've been the majority party."

"It's a tough lift right now," said Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, a former chairman of the party's congressional campaigns, who appeared alongside LaHood on the news show.

The Republican congressmen, while joining others in supporting Hastert's continuing service as speaker, have added a caveat that other Republicans are voicing about federal investigations under way.

Asked whether the Illinois Republican should resign as speaker, Davis said: "Let's wait until the investigation." But he added that "anybody that hindered this in any kind of way, tried to step in the way [in] hiding this, covering it up, is going to have to step down, whoever that is."

Hastert maintains that until the day of Foley's resignation, he knew of only one inappropriate e-mail exchange, which he characterized as overly friendly but not explicitly sexual.

The speaker said he had no recollection of being personally informed of other exchanges until ABC News reported Sept. 29 on electronic messages of a more sexually explicit nature. But he did not dispute Reynolds' claims that he had spoken with Hastert about the e-mails in the spring. "If so," Hastert said last week, "I just don't recall or remember that."

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, is trying to shift the focus of the Foley scandal to the failure of House Republicans to act more aggressively on a problem they should have been attuned to months ago when the chairman of the House Page Board was first alerted to overly friendly communications between Foley and a page.

"When [Foley] wanted to retire, they asked him to run for re-election in 2006, even knowing there was something clearly amiss here," Emanuel said yesterday on ABC's This Week. If a high school principal had not disciplined a teacher acting improperly with a student, he said, the community would demand the principal's ouster.

The scandal has added a volatile new issue to the campaign for control of Congress, a contest framed in a debate between Emanuel and Republican Rep. Adam H. Putnam of Florida on This Week.

"When you guys came to power in 1994, you said you were going to change Washington - Washington changed you," Emanuel told Putnam. "You promised to clean up this swamp, and you have created a deeper set of swamps. ... In this election ... Americans do not want to stay the course you set for this country. They want a change."

"That change would mean a Speaker Pelosi," Putnam said, alluding to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "The change would be a Chairman Barney Frank in charge of the Banking Committee, who has had his own scandals in the past" and a Judiciary Committee chairman initiating impeachment proceedings against President Bush.

Asked how the Foley scandal might affect Democratic hopes for a 15-seat gain and takeover of the House, Putnam said: "Not enough to take the majority." Emanuel, declining to make predictions on the outcome, said: "This is going to be an election about changing the direction."

Mark Silva writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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