By CHARLES BABINGTON
The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 17, 2007; 8:54 PM
WASHINGTON -- Louisiana Sen. David Vitter returned to the Capitol Tuesday, apologizing privately to GOP colleagues but refusing to take public questions about the sex scandal that sent him into seclusion for a week.
The first-term Republican said he wanted to resume his normal Senate schedule, but that proved difficult as news crews camped outside his office and chased him down hallways.
In a private weekly luncheon for Republican senators in the Capitol, Vitter briefly spoke and received a round of applause audible outside the room. Vitter told his colleagues he was sorry for the trouble he had caused them, and thanked them for their messages of support, said a senator who heard the speech and described it on background because of the private nature of the luncheons.
Last week Vitter, 46, acknowledged "a serious sin" after his Washington telephone number was found among those called several years ago by an escort service that prosecutors say was a prostitution ring.
Vitter and his wife Wendy told reporters Monday in Metairie, La., that their marriage is strong and the senator plans to continue his political career. Vitter said other allegations made against him are untrue, apparently referring to a New Orleans woman's claim that he had frequented her brothel in the 1990s.
The couple took no questions, and Vitter flew back to Washington after a week's absence.
On Tuesday morning he did not appear at his office in the Hart Senate Office Building, where a gaggle of cameras and journalists waited. But he did attend a Commerce subcommittee hearing on "air services to small and rural communities" in the nearby Russell building.
When Vitter left, while the hearing continued, reporters chased him down a hallway until he turned and calmly addressed them. He said he and his wife already had made "very straightforward statements about all of this. And I look forward today to being back at work, really focused on a lot of important issues for the people of Louisiana, like what we were discussing in the committee hearing."
He then continued down the hallway, ignoring questions. After exiting the building, he stepped into a waiting white Isuzu Rodeo and was driven away.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Vitter got a warm response from GOP colleagues when he addressed them during the party's weekly luncheon.
"It was a good thing for him to do," Thune said. "There was a lot of support."
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, said she would continue working with Vitter on the state's post-hurricane Katrina and Rita needs, and she said she hoped the scandal surrounding the senator didn't damage Louisiana's attempts to get more federal money for recovery efforts.
"I hope it doesn't impact us. Our people deserve the help, as I have said to everyone in Washington," Blanco said in a conference call with reporters from London, where she was on an economic development trip. But she hinted she was worried, adding: "I am not certain what the reaction is going to be in Washington."