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Democratic leaders let candidates, outside groups take lead on Foley question

Democratic leaders let candidates, outside groups take lead on Foley question

Usually out front in force, national Democrats are expressing outrage about the scandal regarding a resigned Republican congressman's relationship with teenagers but generally are letting their candidates and allied groups do the tough talking.
Party leaders showed restraint as Republicans beat up each other Wednesday amid accusations of a less-than-agressive initial response into flirtatious e-mails the GOP congressman sent to teenage male pages.
"There's no need for Democrats to drive this," said James Ruvolo, a former state Democratic Party chairman in Ohio, a state with hard-fought races for the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Foley abruptly resigned last week as reports surfaced of sexually explicit instant messages he had written to boys, setting off infighting among House Republicans about whether they did enough to deal with the tawdry situation.
What complicates the matter especially for Republicans is that their leadership in both chambers of Congress must be reaffirmed in national elections Nov. 7. All 435 House members and 33 of the 100 Senate seats are at stake.
The scandal continued to unfold Wednesday when Kirk Fordham resigned as chief of staff to Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds and later said he had told House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office more than three years ago about worrisome conduct by Foley.
In the minority, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are known for setting the tone for their rank-and-file by hammering Republicans on the issues of the day, even when Congress is not in session.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean have issued a handful of written statements. The topics: Congress has a moral obligation to protect children, Republican leaders covered up Foley's behavior and investigations are warranted.
For the most part, the leaders have avoided commenting publicly. Pelosi has been the exception. She introduced a resolution on the House floor Friday and has spoken about the scandal when asked at public events on other issues.
Also largely absent from the daily discourse on Foley are the seemingly ever-present Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who lead the party's campaign committees in their respective chambers. It's rare for the pair to turn down an opportunity to add their two cents' worth.
If Democrats go too far, "They run the risk of doing what the Republicans are already guilty of, which is worrying more about what the political ramifications are instead of about the fact that what happened, happened," said Ken Snyder, a Democratic consultant in Pennsylvania, home to several competitive House and Senate races.
So Democrats have sought to strike a balance _ emphasize the protection of children, express disgust at Foley's behavior, and criticize Republicans' responses to it while trying not to be overly aggressive. None of the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have suggested that Hastert resign.
Nevertheless, Democratic leaders' staffs are active behind the scenes, working to keep the media aware of the latest developments in the scandal and pointing out inconsistencies in Republican versions of events.
The Republicans have started accusing the opposition party of seeking political gain by leaking Foley's e-mails and instant messages. "It's absolutely not true," Pelosi says.
"The Democrats have to be awful careful not to overplay this," Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, said. "I don't think the defenders of Bill Clinton and Gerry Studds can all of a sudden become the moral paradigms on Capitol Hill. They run the risk of looking hypocritical."
Those two Democrats were scarred by sex scandals.
Of Democrats in general, Cole said: "If I were them, I would stay out of it and let the media focus on it. ... You can always count on the Democrats to overreach."
Outside Washington, Democratic congressional candidates are seizing on the scandal to argue that voters should put them in charge of the House and Senate on Nov. 7. Democrats need to gain 15 House seats and six Senate seats to win control.
Several Democrats in competitive races have demanded that Hastert resign, and challenged their Republican opponents to do the same, while accusing the highest rungs of the ruling party's leadership of putting political interests above all else.
Republican leaders maintain they did nothing wrong.
Patty Wetterling, a Democrat running for an open House seat in Minnesota, is airing a hard-hitting television ad charging that Republicans "knowingly ignored the welfare of children to protect their own power."
A candidate whose son disappeared 17 years ago, Wetterling will deliver the Democratic response Saturday to President George W. Bush's weekly radio address to the nation. Her address will focus on protecting children, including Internet safety.
In the meantime, Democratic allies also are pressuring Republicans.
American Family Voices, an independent nonprofit group run by a former aide to President Bill Clinton, made recorded phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday to voters in congressional districts of 50 Republican incumbents, including Rep. John Boehner of Ohio and others in tough congressional races, demanding the resignations of Hastert and other leaders.
"Congressman Mark Foley was shielded by Republican leaders for at least nine months after they knew Foley was trying to seduce a 16-year-old boy, a congressional page," the recorded calls say. "Call Congressman (name of member and phone number) and demand he stop the cover-up. The answer is arrests, resignations and a new congressional leadership"
Another pro-Democratic group, FaithfulDemocrats.com, collected signatures from 29 members of the clergy on a letter calling for the "repentance and resignation of all members of Congress who knew about Mr. Foley's misdeeds yet failed to stop them."
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EDITOR'S NOTE _ Liz Sidoti covers politics for The Associated Press.


Updated : 2021-04-14 11:00 GMT+08:00