WASHINGTON — One month from the Nov. 7 midterm elections, a firestorm is raging over the revelation that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and other Republican leaders covered up Rep. Mark Foley’s sexually explicit contacts with teenage congressional pages for nearly a year.
Foley, Republican of Florida, resigned after ABC News broke the story of his e-mails to a then-16-year-old page. Foley served as chairman of the House Committee on Missing and Exploited Children.
The scandal is only one in a tidal wave of sleaze engulfing the Republicans that also includes the disclosure in the book “State of Denial” by Bob Woodward that CIA Director George Tenet briefed then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice two months before Sept. 11, 2001, that a terrorist attack by al-Qaeda was imminent. Rice claimed she can’t remember the briefing, but the State Department has confirmed it took place.
There are also new revelations of close White House ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now a convicted felon. Polls show the Republicans trailing and may lose majority control of both the Senate and House amid this rising “sleaze factor.”
Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, told the World, “Sometimes scandals reach a level where it results in a real house-cleaning.”
“There are so many scandals this year, not only the Abramoff scandal but also Tom DeLay, William Jefferson and now this Mark Foley affair,” he said. “They all add up to a very poor impression of Congress. Plenty of Republicans could lose.”
During an Oct. 3 meeting with senior citizens in West Palm Beach, Fla. — which Foley represented — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) drew strong applause when she blasted the Republican leadership for “protecting Mark Foley instead of protecting the children.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) told the crowd the treated Foley’s misdeeds as a political embarrassment to be covered up rather than a moral crisis. Why, Hastings demanded, did the Republican leadership hide the information from Democrats?
Asked if the Foley crisis is a reason to vote for Democratic candidates on Nov. 7, Pelosi said, “These Republicans are so out of touch with the people! It’s time for a change.”
Democrat Tim Mahoney is now favored to capture Foley’s seat.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called for appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Foley’s crimes. CREW received several of Foley’s e-mails last summer and delivered them to the FBI on July 21. The FBI did nothing.
Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive secretary, said, “Since the FBI has known about Rep. Foley’s e-mails since July, the question arises: Did the administration help to cover up Rep. Foley’s conduct and leave a potential sexual predator on the loose?”
One of the first to know about Foley’s e-mails was Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Republican Congressional Committee. He informed Hastert of the e-mails last spring, washing his hands of further responsibility. But soon after, Foley contributed $100,000 to Reynolds’ re-election campaign.
Tim Carpenter, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America, told the World that Hastert should resign, adding, “Voters should be outraged and should turn them [the Republicans] out of office Nov. 7.”
A just-released report by the House Committee on Government Reform revealed that Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his lobby team had 458 contacts with the White House including 82 contacts with President George W. Bush’s closest adviser, Karl Rove.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), trailing in his re-election bid, accused Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of being “libelous” in linking him to the infamous “K Street Project,” a scheme hatched by Santorum, former Rep. Tom DeLay, Abramoff and GOP strategist Grover Norquist. The aim was to turn the army of 40,000 Washington lobbyists into an army supporting Bush’s corporate agenda by purging all Democrats from their ranks.
Reid wrote an op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle last January comparing the Abramoff-DeLay scandal to “organized crime … Tom DeLay style. The gangsters are the lobbyists, cronies and lawmakers who have banded together and abused their power.”
Montana state Sen. Jon Tester, Democratic Senate candidate, hammered incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns for his crony ties to Abramoff during a debate at the Mother Lode Theater in Butte, Oct. 1. Tester accused Burns of changing his vote and killing a minimum wage bill that would have protected garment workers in the Northern Marianas Islands after Abramoff delivered a check for $5,000 from the sweatshop owners. Tester called it the “Burns-Abramoff slave labor vote.”
Burns snarled that Tester “wants to weaken the Patriot Act.” Tester retorted, “I don’t want to weaken it. I want to repeal it.”
Jim McGarvey, executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO, said Tester, a fourth generation family farmer, is running ahead of Burns in the polls. “He’s got more support from the rural communities than any candidate in many years,” McGarvey told the World in a phone interview from Helena.
“We have a big member-to-member campaign to get union members to the polls Nov. 7,” McGarvey said. “I’ve never seen such enthusiasm. As president of the State Senate, Tester supported increased school funding. He supported an increase in the minimum wage, improved health care. Burns never made any effort to support any of those in the U.S. Senate.”