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GOP Leaders Strip Craig Of Committee Assignments

By Karl Vick and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer and washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, August 30, 2007

BOISE, Idaho, Aug. 29 -- Sen. Larry Craig went on vacation with his wife Wednesday, according to aides, as calls for his resignation intensified, Republican leaders stripped him of his committee assignments, and support in his home state appeared to be eroding.

On the day after Craig dismissed having pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct in an airport restroom as an overreaction to a mistaken arrest, and insisted that he is not gay, even longtime supporters expressed disappointment.

"I voted for him before, but I wouldn't vote for him again, because I don't believe him," said beautician Linda Anderson, 45.

In Washington, two Republican senators said their colleague should resign. "My opinion is that when you plead guilty to a crime, you shouldn't serve," Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) told CNN. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) agreed and announced that he will give to a charity $2,500 in campaign funds his office had received from Craig.

Senate GOP leaders said that Craig "agreed to comply" with their request that he step down as the ranking Republican on the Veterans' Affairs Committee and two subcommittees while the ethics committee assesses his case. The move, they said, was for "the good of the Senate."

The intensity of the Republican leaders' assault on one of their own was stunning, if for no other reason than its unusual -- un-senatorial -- nature. Several ethics lawyers and experts could not provide an example in the past two decades of one senator calling for the ethics committee to investigate a colleague.

A White House spokesman, Scott Stanzel, expressed disappointment "in the matter" and said he hopes the ethics committee will do its work swiftly, "as that would be in the best interests of the Senate and the people of Idaho."

Idahoans have elected Craig in three landslide votes. But in the Boise area Wednesday -- where a day earlier he had gone before TV cameras to declare "I am not gay" -- supporters were suddenly difficult to find.

"He should resign right now. Right now," said George Radford, 86, rapping his knuckles on the counter of the Sunrise Cafe in the nearby town of Meridian.

"Absolutely," Ed Holm said from the next stool. "Don't put his family through it."

Both men voted for Craig but said his course is clear.

"He pled guilty to a lesser charge because he knew he was guilty of the more serious charge," Radford said.

"I'm disappointed," said Holm, a mechanic. "I really am, because he has done a heck of a job for Idaho."

In the hours after Craig's defiant statement, ABC affiliate KIVI-TV solicited viewers' reactions on its Web site. By the early news, it had not received one expression of support.

"It's because it's a lying thing," said Karsten Roberts, nursing a drink at a punk-rock bar in downtown Boise. "You're representing your constituents, and you shouldn't lie to them. I don't think it comes down to being gay, straight, lesbian or bi."

Opinions differ on that. Rumors about his sexual orientation have swirled about Craig for decades. "I moved here in 1982, and I heard them within a year," said Don Turner, 51, a pharmaceutical salesman from Boise.

Dean Mayes Jr., an insurance agent born and raised in Meridian, slowly shook his head when asked if a senator could announce his homosexuality and survive electorally. "I don't think so," Mayes said. "Pretty conservative state. I think it would cause him considerable problems."

Yet Idaho voters in 1994 defeated an anti-gay initiative that Colorado had passed two years earlier, a measure that would have prevented civil rights protections for gay men and lesbians and would have banned books that depicted homosexuality favorably.

"Idaho has an intriguing history that way, and an intriguing set of politics," said Nicole LeFavour, a Democrat elected twice to the Idaho assembly while openly a lesbian. "We have a very libertarian, kind of live-and-let-live, streak out there."

LeFavour, who represents a liberal district of Boise, said her experience "has been surprisingly positive." But she said that Craig lost the opportunity for understanding when he repudiated his guilty plea before the cameras Tuesday.

With his wife beside him, Craig said his behavior in a Minneapolis airport men's room June 11 was misconstrued by the police sergeant who arrested him.

The police report said that Craig eyed the undercover police officer through the crack in a bathroom stall door, then sat in an adjacent stall and tapped his foot "as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct." Craig was arrested and charged with interference with privacy and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors.

On Aug. 8, he pleaded guilty to the disorderly-conduct charge and paid a $500 fine. Craig said he pleaded guilty because he was nervous about attention from the Idaho Statesman newspaper in Boise, which was investigating reports of his sexual orientation.

Greg Smith, a pollster who used to work in Craig's Senate office, said that if the lawmaker survives the next three to five days, attention will die down. "After that, there will be some degree of damage. . . . It's certainly not terminal," he said.

Smith said that Craig needs to shore up support among rural conservatives, who tend to tune out Washington political chatter. "We tend to view ourselves as our own bosses," he said.

But in interviews in Idaho, few saw the scandal as something out of Washington.

"You know, I don't understand if he just touched somebody's foot why he pleaded guilty," Anderson, the beautician, said as she prepared for her first customer. "We're a Republican state. We're Idaho. He's dishonored us."

Kane reported from Washington.

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