A senior Republican senator is considering resigning, party officials said Friday, after days of public and private pressure stemming from his arrest in June in an undercover sex sting in an airport men's room.
C.L. "Butch" Otter, the governor of the conservative, western state of Idaho that Sen. Larry Craig represents, already appears to have settled on a successor _ Lt. Gov. Jim Risch _ Republican officials in the state said Friday.
Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Aug. 1, and while he has since said he did nothing wrong, the episode has roiled the Republican party and produced numerous calls for him to step down.
Republicans lost control of Congress in last November's elections, partly due to scandals, and are trying to regroup in preparation for the next round of voting, this time with the presidency at stake, in late 2008. Many conservatives, a significant base in the party, oppose homosexuality.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday called Craig's conduct "unforgivable" and acknowledged that many in his party caucus believe Craig should resign.
"We have acted promptly to begin the process of dealing with this conduct," McConnell said. "We will see what happens in the coming days."
The plan for naming a successor and McConnell's latest statement were further evidence that Republican officeholders and party leaders want Craig to quit immediately.
As a measure of the pressure Craig faces, party officials said a statement had been drafted at Republican Party headquarters calling for the veteran senator to resign. It was not issued, these officials said, in response to concerns that it might complicate quiet efforts under way to persuade the 62-year-old lawmaker to give up his seat.
Craig has not made any public statements about his case since an appearance earlier this week in his home state of Idaho, in which he said he had done nothing wrong. "I am not gay. I never have been gay," he added emphatically.
He said any additional comment would be posted on his official Web site, where the only reference to the incident as of Friday was a text of the statement he read before the television cameras.
Risch served for seven months as governor last year after former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was named Interior Secretary. Risch had said earlier he was interested in Craig's Senate seat if Craig did not seek re-election in 2008.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, had also been mentioned as a possible replacement for Craig, but the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, because Craig has not resigned, said Otter would choose Risch
Craig, 62, served in the House before winning his first Senate term in 1990, and compiled a strongly conservative voting record.
He 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. The officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia, accused the senator of lying and grew exasperated with his denials.
"Embarrassing, embarrassing. No wonder why we're going down the tubes," Karsnia said.
In the police interview, Craig, 62, never admitted doing anything wrong and said his actions had been misinterpreted. However, Karsnia wrote in his report that the gestures were consistent with efforts to find a sexual partner in the men's room.
Craig later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, which he now calls a mistake.
Associated Press writers Scott Sonner in Nevada, Joshua Freed in Minneapolis, John Miller and Todd Dvorak in Idaho and Liz Sidoti in Washington contributed to this report.