Friday, October 12, 2007

Craig in the Box Keeps Popping Up

It's not that Senator Larry Craig is back. It's that he won't go away, not matter what his Republican peers and ex-buddies do. Now the sure-fire, whiz-bang Senate Ethics Committee hearing that GOPpers demanded fizzled. The rich men's chamber of Congress lives by its rules, and according to the AP report, this process will roll and roll and roll.

In case you're a delicate sort who has avoided this redolent mess, Craig was caught in June in a sex sting at a Minneapolis airport toilet. To sidestep misdemeanor charges such as soliciting sex in public and prolonged peeping at a man in a stall, he cut a deal in a plea bargain for disorderly conduct -- paying the fine by mail nearly two months later. Since that, he has been the burr under the saddle of his party. His governor in Idaho wants him gone and has lined up his replacement, who would get 15 months of incumbency. His GOP party leaders and peers want him out of sight, not being yet another reminder to America that the GOP is the party of self-indulgent amorality and immorality. The party that impeached President Clinton for lying about a few blow jobs has made the Dems look pure.

Craig promised to resign, but didn't. He clarified that promise later by saying if he couldn't withdraw his guilty plea, he really, truly would resign. A Minnesota judge ruled that he couldn't, but Craig reneged on that too. Honor, they name is not Republican.

So, you ask, the Republicans demanded an ethics investigation to scare Craig into resigning, why don't they just call it off?

Well, according to the AP report, the rules don't permit chocking the juggernaut when it's rolling. As the story puts it, "Now Republicans are powerless to stop a process almost certain to do more political damage to the party in general than to a retiring senator."

The GOP's partial salvation is that while they threatened Craig with public hearings to embarrass him out of office (he literally has zero shame), they don't have to open the initial information gathering phase to the press and public. They are also helped a little by the reality that Dems can't demand public hearings and make a big deal out of it, without seeming like they are on a Bill-Clinton revenge jag and acting, well, like Republicans. Many Americans were disgusted by the impeachment hearings and process; Democrats want to stay on the good side of voters and get the most 2008 votes.

A disorderly conduct verdict like this does not require removal of a senator. However, it seems likely that the three Republicans and three Democrats on the Ethics Committee can fall back on "conduct or activity which does not directly relate to official duties, when such conduct unfavorably reflects on the institution as a whole."

There's certainly prima facie support for that here. However, the unique wrinkle in this case is that such cases can take years to complete, maybe longer than Craig's remaining 15 months in office. Meanwhile, Republicans would like Craig to vanish from the earth and from collective memories of voters, while Democrats try not to cackle at the idea that he will be news right into the 2008 elections.

The closest hint of the process we have so far came from Ethics Committee Chair Barbara Boxer. The statement from her office included, "If, at the end of the preliminary inquiry, the Ethics Committee decides to move into the adjudicatory phase, any hearings held would be public unless the committee votes to close them. But that is a decision that is made after we have completed our preliminary inquiry."

No one so far has been asked to testify or even think about testifying. Craig doesn't seem to care what further damage he does to Idaho or his party. He seems to have told everyone who asks him to quit to get lost. We might even end up with a Democratic U.S. Senator from Idaho for the first time since Frank Church. He has certainly robbed a replacement of the power of office as well as Idaho of any committee seats and influence.

This is an incredibly clumsy dance. I can't stop watching.

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