Sen. Larry Craig, surrounded by his family, Gov. Butch Otter, State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna and Congressman Bill Sali, resigned from the U.S. Senate, effective Sept. 30.
He thanked his family for supporting him, and thanked Idahoans for letting him serve as senator. “I am grateful for the opportunity they have given me.”
With his wife at his side and Otter standing behind him, Craig said, "It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce it is my intention to resign from the Senate effective Sept. 30.”
Craig said pursing his legal options while serving as a senator would distract from the business of Idaho.
“What is best of Idaho has always been the focus of my efforts,” he said.
Responding to reports of the last week, he said only: “I have no control over what people choose to believe.”
Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Aug. 1 after his arrest in June in a police undercover operation at an airport men’s room. And while he has since said he did nothing wrong, the episode roiled the Republican party and produced numerous calls for him to step down.
Sen. Mike Crapo released a statement highlighting Craig's career and legacy to Idaho after Craig announced his resignation this morning.
"Today is a sad day for me as I recognize that Senator Craig has made clear his intentions to leave the U.S. Senate. He has been my colleague for many years, and I have enjoyed working with Larry, but, more importantly, he has been my friend," Crapo said in a news release. "It is my hope that as history judges Senator Craig, that his successes, accomplishments and strong leadership for Idaho in Congress are taken in totality, and that those he served so admirably in Congress for five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and three terms in the U.S. Senate will recall the full measure of the man."
But in a sign of how far Craig’s status in Washington, D.C., had slipped, few Senate Republican leaders offered warm words. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., a former pal of Craig’s in the Singing Senators choral group, would not comment. And Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader who called for an ethics investigation into Craig’s conduct and who stripped the Idaho senator last week of his leadership posts on top committees, offered only a terse statement. “Senator Larry Craig made a difficult decision, but the right one,” McConnell said. “It is my hope he will be remembered not for this, but for his three decades of dedicated public service.”
More than 300 people, including reporters and photographers from national and local media, came to hear Craig at the Boise Depot. The lectern was placed so the Capitol and the Foothills would serve as a backdrop for the cameras. Many in the audience had trouble hearing Craig because there were nospeakers to amplify his voice.
Craig was greeted with applause upon his arrival.
"Don't resign!" shouted Vicki Williams of Boise.
"Do!" countered Nick Bayus, also of Boise.
Many Craig supporters were visibly saddened.
"A lot of people turn on him, like Sen. (John) McCain," said Skyler Bagley, 21, of Rexburg, a freshman political science student at Boise State University. "They're supposed to be friends, Republicans with Republicans, Democrats with Democrats. Especially in wartime, it would be nice if they were friends."
Craig was arrested on June 11 by an undercover police officer in a Minneapolis airport men’s room who said the senator had engaged in conduct “often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct.”
Minutes after he was arrested for lewd conduct, Craig denied soliciting for sex, saying “I’m not gay. I don’t do these kinds of things,” according to an audio tape released by police on Thursday.
He denied that he had used foot and hand gestures to signal interest in a sexual encounter.
Craig later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, which he has since called a mistake.
Sali called for Craig’s family to be treated with “Idaho-style decency” in the coming days, and said in a statement that Craig “has been an unusually diligent and effective public servant who has accomplished much for Idaho. Every Idahoan has benefited from his service and we all owe him and his family a debt of gratitude for their dedication and sacrifice.”
Sali’s spokesman, Wayne Hoffman, said that the first-term congressman found it easy to stand with Craig in support at his announcement, despite the obvious animosity of national Republican Party leaders.
“It was as simple as this: Larry Craig is his friend,” Hoffman said. “Larry Craig stood by Bill Sali when they going was tough, and he didn’t hesitate at all to stand by Larry. It was the right thing to do.”
Margaret Stewart, a Boise Democrat, never voted for Craig, but witnessed his resignation speech this morning at the Depot.
"I think it was the right thing to do for the state of Idaho," she said. "I really admire him for stepping down so the Senate and Idaho can continue to (concentrate) on the real issues."
Ben Doty called Craig's office earlier this week and urged him to complete his term. The case against Craig is based on rumor and anonymous people, he said.
"He is a man who has devoted 27 years of his life to public service to the state and the nation," Doty said.
Last week, GOP leaders were so angry with Craig that they were prepared to call for the ouster of one of their own Republican senators. The Republican National Committee was prepared to issue a statement calling for Craig’s resignation, but held back after party leaders were told that Craig was going to step down of his own volition.
It’s almost astonishing how quickly Craig lost his grip on his power and his seat, said Peter Fenn, a Democratic strategist who worked for Idaho Sen. Frank Church from 1975-1981.
Craig’s political fortunes weren’t helped by his reticence to go to Republican leaders and tell them what had happened, Fenn said.
“They were caught by surprise, and I think that the tolerance level on the Hill is not real high now, for much of this,” he said.
For Republicans, putting pressure on Craig to step down was “a straight political calculation,” Fenn said.
“They knew that if this was going to be on 24-cable channels and with investigative reporters looking into it, this was going to be a complete disaster for them politically,” he said. “They thought, 'We don’t need this.' ”
Democrats have chosen to remain quiet on the entire matter, in the hopes that it continues to be pegged as one of a series of Republican scandals unconnected to Democrats.
Craig’s fellow western senator and ally on Idaho mining issues, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, would not comment today on Craig’s resignation. After Craig's speech, as he walked away from the lectern, a reporter asked Craig whether he continues to fight the allegations against him. "Of course I am," he said.
Craig said he would announce the name of his lawyer this afternoon.
Otter and first lady Lori Otter were among the Republican leaders who stood behind Craig to support him. Otter made no statement about appointing a successor to serve the rest of Craig's term through December 2008.
The two most likely candidates to succeed Craig, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, were not at the event. But Simpson's spokeswoman, Nikki Watts, noted that Otter has until Sept. 30 to decide on an appointment.
"We don't believe an announcement is imminent," Watts said.
Otter's spokesman, Mark Warbis, said there would be no statements or interviews today.
Check back at IdahoStatesman.com for more information.