After a week filled with scandalous headlines and ribald late-night TV humor at the expense of one of their own, Republican leaders got what they wanted Saturday: the resignation of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig.
“Senator Craig made the right decision for himself, for his family, his constituents and the United States Senate,” said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.
One of Craig’s harshest critics, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Craig “made a difficult decision, but the right one.”
‘I am deeply sorry’
While saying nothing about his abandonment by national GOP leaders, Craig made a point of thanking the Idaho politicians who stood with him Saturday with a historic Boise train station as a backdrop.
“For any public official at this moment in time to be standing with Larry Craig is in itself a humbling experience,” Craig said.
And he signaled his determination to continue fighting for his name, hiring a Washington lawyer who represented Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in his dogfighting case.
“I have little control over what people choose to believe, but clearly my name is important to me,” said Craig.
“I apologize for what I have caused,” Craig said, his wife Suzanne and two of their three children at his side. “I am deeply sorry.”
Craig, 62, said he would resign effective Sept. 30, ending a career in Congress spanning a quarter-century.
Quick end to a D.C. scandal
Making no specific mention of the incident that triggered his disgrace in his remarks, he spoke for under six minutes and took no questions.
“The people of Idaho deserve a senator who can devote 100 percent of his time and effort to the critical issues of our state and of our nation,” Craig said.
Among those attending was Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who will appoint a successor for the remaining 15 months of Craig’s term.
It was a relatively quick end to a drama that began Monday with the stunning disclosure that Craig had pleaded guilty to a reduced charge following his arrest June 11 in a Minneapolis airport men’s room.
Craig at first tried to hold on to his position, contending in a public appearance on Tuesday that he had done nothing inappropriate and that his only mistake was pleading guilty Aug. 1 to the misdemeanor charge. But a growing chorus of leading GOP leaders called for him to step down to spare the party further embarrassment and possible harm in next year’s elections.
Governor says no replacement picked
Otter said Saturday he has not chosen a replacement, although several Republicans familiar with internal deliberations said he favored Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Risch.
Otter called speculation that he has made a choice “dead wrong” and declined to say when he would fill the seat.
Craig said he would remain in the Senate until Sept. 30 in hopes of providing a smooth transition for his staff and whoever is chosen as his successor.
President Bush called Craig from the White House after the senator’s announcement and told him he knew it was a difficult decision to make, said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.
Craig was arrested June 11 in a police undercover vice operation. The arresting officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia, said in his report that the restroom where he encountered Craig is a known location for homosexual activity.
Long the subject of rumors
Craig has faced rumors about his sexuality since the 1980s. He has called assertions that he has engaged in gay sex ridiculous.
“I am not gay. I never have been gay,” Craig said defiantly after a news conference Tuesday. He said he had kept the incident from aides, friends and family and pleaded guilty “in hopes of making it go away.”
Other lawmakers embroiled in sex scandals also have resigned from Congress, albeit usually at the end of scenarios that took longer to play out than the one that claimed Craig.
Former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., quit last fall over sexually explicit Internet communications with male pages who had worked on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., resigned in 1995 amid allegations he had made unwanted sexual advances to 17 female employees and colleagues and altered his personal diaries to obstruct an ethics investigation.
Legacy forever tainted?
On Saturday, Craig said he would pursue legal options to clear his name. Spokesman Dan Whiting said that included retaining Martin, a criminal lawyer, and Washington lawyer Stan Brand to represent Craig before the Senate ethics committee.
“It is my hope he will be remembered not for this, but for his three decades of dedicated public service,” McConnell said. McConnell had been one of Craig’s harshest critics, calling his actions “unforgivable.”
Some Idaho residents who attended Craig’s public resignation said it felt like a “political funeral.”
Bayard Gregory, from Boise, said Craig should have been more forthright after his arrest.
“It’s a horribly embarrassing experience to go through,” Gregory said. “But if it were me, and I had done nothing wrong, I wouldn’t have pleaded guilty.”
Craig spokesman Sidney Smith said he did not know whether Craig would return to Washington on Tuesday, the start of the post-Labor Day congressional session.
“We haven’t decided that yet, whether he’s going to return or not,” Smith said.
A conservative force
Craig represented Idaho in Congress for more than a quarter-century, including 17 years in the Senate. He was up for re-election next year.
Republicans, worried about the scandal’s effect on next year’s election, suffered a further setback Friday when veteran Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia announced he will retire rather than seek a sixth term. Democrats captured Virginia’s other Senate seat from the GOP in the 2006 election.
Craig opposes gay marriage and has a strong record against gay rights. He was a leading voice in the Senate on gun issues and Western lands. Craig chaired the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and was a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, where he was adept at securing federal money for Idaho projects.
A fiscal and social conservative, Craig sometimes broke with his party, notably on immigration, where he pushed changes that many in his party said offered “amnesty” to illegal immigrants. Much of the impetus behind Craig’s push to ease bureaucratic hurdles to immigrant farm workers stemmed from his background as a rancher and the state’s large rural, farming community.