GOP Supporters Are Hard to Find on Craig's List

Arlen Specter, right, was one of the few non-reporters to call out to Larry Craig for a chat.
Arlen Specter, right, was one of the few non-reporters to call out to Larry Craig for a chat. (By Lauren Victoria Burke -- Associated Press)
By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When Larry Craig (R-Lindbergh Terminal) dropped in unexpectedly for lunch with his Senate Republican colleagues yesterday, the caucus developed a serious case of acid reflux.

"I never talk about these things," a sour Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) told reporters as he left the room.

"You'll have to ask somebody else about that," said a dyspeptic Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.) paused and smiled. "Uh, I think the ethics committee is going to review the matter. See y'all." With that, the Senate's No. 2 Republican fled into the chamber.

Even Craig's few defenders were having trouble finding words. "You don't toss off, er, over, a friend of that duration," reasoned Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who suggested that others feel the same way in private. "There's been a lot of favorable talk about Larry in the cloakroom," Specter said.

Oh, dear.

References to cloakroom goings-on might not be exactly what Craig needs right now. But in fairness to Specter, he didn't have much time to order his thoughts. Craig gave the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, just an hour's notice before returning to the Capitol for the first time since he offered -- then reconsidered -- his resignation after pleading guilty last month to toe-tapping and wide-standing in an airport men's room.

McConnell was not pleased to get the call. When Craig arrived for a vote on the Senate floor just after noon, he sidled up to a threesome of Republican senators: Jim Bunning (Ky.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and McConnell. Bunning patted Craig on the back. Murkowski gave him a hug. McConnell stood still as a statue. The awkward quartet remained in place for a full minute until Craig retreated to a safer spot from which to cast a wary eye at the suddenly crowded press gallery.

The indignities began immediately for Craig, when one member of the Capitol Police did not recognize him when he walked around a metal detector on the first floor. "Larry Craig," the senator found it necessary to tell the cop.

Clearing security, Craig bumped into CNN's Ted Barrett, who by serendipity was waiting for an elevator. "What brings you back to the Capitol today?" Barrett asked.

"Go to work," Craig answered.

When Barrett pushed for a more detailed explanation, Craig retorted: "Because I'm a serving United States senator from Idaho."

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