Craig's power shrinks, but his vote still counts

Lawmaker's support could help Republicans seeking a key Senate leadership post.

ebolstad@mcclatchydc.comDecember 2, 2007 

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Larry Craig may have lost his reputation and his standing in the Senate, but he's still one senator, with one vote.

Craig was asked in late August to give up his leadership positions on Senate committees after the news broke that he was arrested in a sex sting in the Minneapolis Airport and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. It was a blow for the Idaho Republican, who had worked his way up to the top GOP spot on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and was a senior member of several other committees.

Now, though, Craig's diminished status is less important to GOP senators who are scrambling to land an open leadership spot in their ranks.

The No. 2 Republican leader in the Senate, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., announced Monday that he was stepping down.

The No. 3 GOP senator, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., is set to take Lott's place.

So the race is now on for Kyl's job as GOP conference chairman in the Senate, sending the would-be leaders on the campaign trail to land commitments from their Republican colleagues before their Dec. 6 vote.

Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee all want the job.

Craig's vote was last pursued in mid-September, when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was looking for enough Republican votes to pass an amendment mandating longer troop rest times between Iraq deployments.

The amendment fell short and Craig voted against it, but not for a lack of effort on Reid's part.

"I spent three weeks trying," Reid said at the time. "I called and spoke to Republican senators. I even called Larry Craig, OK?"

Campaigning for Senate leadership positions is done senator-to-senator, and the balloting is secret. Last year, Lott won his campaign for whip by just one vote, meaning that Craig's vote matters.

One Republican leadership aide put it bluntly: "A vote's a vote."

But another aide, whose boss is in the running for one of the leadership spots, told the Statesman that Craig may represent one vote, but his backing means less than that of other, still-powerful senators.

However, unlike some of his more powerful colleagues who still have standing and status within the Senate, Craig doesn't bring any votes with him.

Other senators do, though, and those senators are the "supervoters" sought by the competitors.

Craig's office, which hasn't spoken to the Statesman since Sept. 19, would not answer questions about whether he had been contacted by any colleagues for his support in the senate GOP leadership races.

His spokesman also wouldn't address a question about the other power Craig still has in the Senate: his ability to place holds on legislation he doesn't want to see passed, effectively stalling it.

Craig, the former top Republican on the Veterans' Affairs committee, has put holds on two bills that passed this summer.

It has drawn the ire of the committee's chairman, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who complained earlier this month on the floor of the Senate about Craig's actions."It is most unfortunate that we have been unable to reach agreement to proceed to their consideration, due in part to an abrupt and unexpected change in the minority committee leadership," Akaka said.

One of the bills guarantees an exam within 30 days for veterans who think they've suffered from a traumatic brain injury or who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The other bill covers a variety of veteran benefits and offers service pensions to Filipino veterans of World War II.

Erika Bolstad: 202-383-6104

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