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U.S. lawmakers press senator to resign in scandal over bathroom arrest

U.S. lawmakers press senator to resign in scandal over bathroom arrest

A Republican senator is finding himself increasingly isolated from his political allies as more fellow Republicans call for him to resign amid a sex scandal over his arrest in an airport men's room.
A spokesman for Idaho Sen. Larry Craig denied widespread speculation in Washington that the three-term senator _ up for re-election next year _ was preparing to quit. Sidney Smith said Wednesday he had heard no such discussion.
Republican Senate leaders pushed Craig from senior committee positions. A White House spokesman expressed disappointment in the 62-year-old lawmaker, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to a charge stemming from an undercover police operation last June in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.
Others in the Republican Party were more harsh. "Senator Craig pled guilty to a crime involving conduct unbecoming a senator," said Republican Sen. Norm Coleman. "He should resign."
Craig "represents the Republican Party," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who called the behavior unacceptable and became the first in a steadily lengthening list of Republican members of Congress to call for Craig to quit.
Sen. John McCain also urged Craig to step down, as did a handful of Republican House members, including Jeff Miller, Ginny Brown-Waite, Mark Souder, Bobby Jindal and Ron Lewis.
One Republican senator who did not call for Craig to resign _ Kit Bond _ said he was praying for Craig and his family but still called Craig's conduct intolerable.
"It is unacceptable for a member of Congress to be soliciting sex in public restrooms," Bond said.
Craig's spokesman Smith said the Republican lawmakers "have a right to express themselves," but added, "We're not going to get into an argument on that right now."
Craig is cooperating with Senate leaders by stepping aside as the senior Republican on the Veteran Affairs committee and from his position on two subcommittees, Smith said.
Craig said Tuesday he had committed no wrongdoing and shouldn't have pleaded guilty. He said he had only recently retained a lawyer to advise him in the case, which threatens to write an ignominious end to a lifetime in public office.
Republican Senate leaders said they did not act lightly in asking Craig to give up his leadership posts temporarily. But they said their decision was "in the best interest of the Senate until this situation is resolved by the ethics committee."
Meanwhile, Republicans in Craig's home state were uncertain how to react.
Craig, who has represented Idaho in Congress for 27 years, has built deep trust and loyalty across the state and has come to know many of his supporters by name.
His work on the Appropriations Committee has delivered millions of dollars for public works projects, nonprofit organizations, farmers, ranchers and businesses _ and the risk of losing all that worried some Republicans.
Republican activists also said they wanted to give Craig time to explain his version of events.
"I think people here still need a little time," said Republican Idaho state Sen. Mel Richardson. "People want to weigh in their minds how they feel about him and whether they can believe the evidence here."
For the most part, Democrats studiously avoided involvement with an unfolding Republican scandal.
"We at least ought to hear his side of the story.," said Sen. Christopher Dodd.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, another Democrat, said his party stood to gain. "All of these people who (are) holier than thou are now under investigations. ... I think the Republican Party will find itself in a great peril next year," he said.
McCain's call for a resignation was the first among Republican presidential rivals.
Sen. Sam Brownback, also seeking the White House, said Craig's declaration that he had pleaded guilty to make the issue go away "doesn't work in these jobs." Still, he said it was premature to call for Craig to resign.
Hoekstra said Craig's explanations were not credible.
"I think it's important for Republicans to step out right now and say, 'No, this behavior is not going to be tolerated,'" he said. "It's not a judgment on gay rights or anything like that. This is about leadership and setting a standard that the American people and your colleagues in the Republican Party can feel good about."
Craig was arrested on June 11 in a Minneapolis airport men's room after an undercover officer observed conduct that he said was "often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct." He pleaded guilty by mail this month to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.
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Associated Press writers Todd Dvorak in Idaho, David Espo, Ken Thomas, Fred Frommer and Sam Hananel in Washington, and Jim Davenport in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.