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Foley scandal puts pressure on Republicans ahead of elections

Foley scandal puts pressure on Republicans ahead of elections

A close ally of the leader of the House of Representatives called Wednesday for temporary suspension of the congressional page program amid the uproar over a former lawmaker's Internet exchanges with teenage interns and Speaker Dennis Hastert's handling of the problem.
"People are very, very concerned" about daily disclosures concerning former Rep. Mark Foley's salacious messages, said Rep. Ray LaHood, recommending the program be shut down at least for awhile.
As Republicans grow increasingly nervous about their election prospects and Hastert tries to save his job in the face of criticism, the scandal dominates the 24-hour news media and the Internet blogosphere.
Asked by conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh Tuesday if he was going to step down, Hastert, replied, "I'm not going to do that."
Hastert, who sets the House's legislative agenda, is one of the most powerful leaders in Washington and third in line in succession to the presidency.
Meanwhile, LaHood, who like Hastert comes from the state of Illinois, said that it is not the speaker who should go. Instead, he said the page program should be shut down, at least temporarily.
He questioned an "antiquated" congressional page system that brings 15-and 16-year-olds to the Capitol to run errands for lawmakers and has resulted in scandals in the past.
"Some members betray their trust by taking advantage of them. We should not subject young men and women to this kind of activity, this kind of vulnerability," LaHood said in a CNN television interview. He said the program should be shut down until problems can be resolved.
In another development Wednesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is in line to become Republican leader in the Senate after the Nov. 7 election, said the scandal could hurt House candidates in the balloting. But McConnell also said he did not expect it to have any impact on Senate races.
All 435 seats in the House are at stake in the election and 33 seats in the 100-member Senate are up for grabs. Republicans control both the House and the Senate.
President George W. Bush, speaking at a Stockton, Calif., elementary school on Tuesday, said he was disgusted by the Foley revelations and voiced support for Hastert.
"I know that he wants all the facts to come out," the president said.
Conservatives debated whether Hastert should resign over his handling of the controversy.
Activist Richard A. Viguerie called for Hastert to step down. "The fact that they just walked away from this, it sounds like they were trying to protect one of their own members rather than these young boys," Viguerie said on Fox News.
Yet the Christian Coalition said it was standing behind Hastert, and Republican Rep. John Shadegg circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter in support of Hastert, saying calls for the speaker to resign were "unwarranted and fundamentally unfair."
Hastert says he first heard details of the Foley matter last Friday when the story was breaking. The No. 2 House Republican, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, and House GOP campaign chair Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York said they had spoken with Hastert about a complaint concerning a former page from Louisiana last spring after being told about it by Rep. Rodney Alexander, who had sponsored the teen.
Hastert sought to blame Democrats for leaking sexually explicit computer instant messages between Foley and former pages from 2003.
"Democrats have ... put this thing forward to try to block us," Hastert told Limbaugh.
"It's absolutely not true," countered House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
ABC News, which first reported on initial online exchanges from Foley that were questionable but not graphic, says sexually explicit messages reported last Friday were provided by former pages after its initial report Thursday.
ABC News said Tuesday it had obtained additional instant messages.
"Can I have a good kiss goodnight," Foley was said to have messaged in one. A boy responded with cyber symbols and "kiss."
In another message, Foley invited the teenager to his Capitol Hill town house "for a few drinks" even though he knew the boy was under the legal drinking age. "We may need to drink at my house so we dont get busted," Foley messaged. gay.
The House ethics committee, meanwhile, scheduled its first meeting on Foley's actions for Thursday, in closed session. The House voted last Friday to direct the ethics panel to inquire into the matter.
Foley resigned abruptly on Friday after being confronted with the 2003 instant message exchanges.
The FBI announced over the weekend it was opening a preliminary investigation into the matter.
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Associated Press writers David Espo and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-03-01 11:43 GMT+08:00