Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) promised Wednesday night that he would seek treatment and take a leave of absence from Congress after pleading guilty to possessing cocaine. His staff will continue to handle constituent casework and answer the phones in his absence. They'll likely by supervised by Radel's chief of staff, Dave Natonski, a veteran legislative aide who has worked for House Republicans for more than a decade.
But the freshman representative did not say for how long he plans to remain on leave or whether he is considering resigning from office.
Florida's primary election next year is on August 26. Radel, who won handily in Florida's conservative 19th district a year ago, would presumably have to be working again before then. He won election only after a crowded primary, and several of his old opponents have said they'd consider challenging him again. "He either has to have the decency to leave office or he'll have to wait until the voters throw him out," former state legislator Paige Kreegel told The Miami Herald.
That said, any potential primary challenger would likely be at odds with Republican leaders, who at the moment don't seem interested in prolonging the scandal. Radel's father, Skip, reportedly told The Cincinnati Enquirer that Radel met with House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans. "They told him they didn't want him to resign and they wanted to back him," the elder Radel was quoted as saying.
Were the congressman to resign, Florida law would provide for a special election to replace him. Governor Rick Scott would set the dates for the primary and the general elections, allowing at least two weeks between each poll.
(A spokesman for Boehner declined to comment for the Enquirer, referring instead to the prepared statement the office released Wednesday. "The alleged crime will be handled by the courts. Beyond that, this is between Rep. Radel, his family and his constituents," the statement read.)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a senior member of Florida's G.O.P. delegation, had kind words for her colleague. "He is a hard-working, good legislator," she said Wednesday. "I don’t presume what is best for him." Presumably, Radel is hoping voters in Florida's 19th district will see things the same way.