GOP senator speaks in Craig's defense

But most Republican talk show participants say resigning was the right thing to do.

ebolstad@mcclatchy.comSeptember 3, 2007 

A day after U.S. Sen. Larry Craig announced that he would step down because he "had little control over what people chose to believe" about his personal life, the Idahoan finally found an ally among his fellow Republicans in Washington.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, offering a contrarian voice to the calls by Senate GOP leaders for Craig to resign, said he'd have liked to have seen Craig keep fighting for his seat.

Although Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct last month after a sex sting in a men's room in the Minneapolis airport, the evidence was flimsy, Specter told "Fox News Sunday."

"I'd still like to see Sen. Craig fight this case," he said. "He left himself some daylight, when he said he ‘intends' to resign in 30 days. I'd like to see Larry Craig go back to court, seek to withdraw his guilty plea and fight the case. I've had some experience in these kinds of matters since my days as Philadelphia district attorney, and with the evidence, Sen. Craig wouldn't be convicted of anything."

Specter, however, was in the minority Sunday, especially in his own party.

Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, who leads GOP fundraising efforts for 2008 Senate races, said Sunday he was proud of the "swift action" by Republican leaders: "not only calling for an immediate Senate ethics investigation, removing him from his committees, but also sending a signal to him that it was probably best that he resign."

"It was best for himself, best for his family and best for the institution of the Senate," Ensign told ABC's "This Week."

Ensign was among the first Senate leaders to suggest that it would be best for the Republican Party for Craig to step down. He also was among the Senate GOP leaders who asked the Senate ethics committee to investigate and stripped Craig of his committee leadership positions.

Democrats Sunday zeroed in on what they called a "double standard" about sex scandals in the Senate. No one called on Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to resign following his acknowledgment that he'd called an escort service run by the so-called D.C. Madam, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

"And nobody seems to be upset with that," Leahy said on "Fox News Sunday." "Frankly, I would think that, as compared to a sting operation in a men's room in Minnesota, would be as serious."

Ensign defended the party's decision, saying there was a clear distinction: Unlike Vitter, Craig had pleaded guilty to a crime.

It wasn't a rush to judgment, Ensign said, "simply because Larry had admitted guilt ... guilt to something that I thought was not only embarrassing to himself and his family, but also to the whole United States Senate."

Leahy said it comes down to politics: Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate, and Republicans fear that the Craig scandal could further dim their 2008 election prospects.

"I don't think they'll ask (Vitter) to resign, because of course, he'll be replaced by a Democrat," Leahy said. "It's easy to ask Larry Craig to resign because he'd be replaced by a Republican."

Ensign acknowledged that Senate Republicans will have a tough fight in 2008.

"This is a competitive election cycle," Ensign said on a separate program. "There's no question. We have 22 seats to defend; the Democrats only have 12 seats to defend."

Erika Bolstad: (202) 383-6104

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