Radioactive

Posted: October 1, 2006 in 2006 Elections, Beltway Drama


I was working on a long story on the political fallout of the Foley scandal, and it turns out the Washington Post beat me to it in a front page Sunday story written better than anything I had, so I’ll link to their story here.

In less than 24 hours, the Foley resignation has become a full-fledged political scandal on Capitol Hill.

The extent of the problem was first reported by ABC News:

One former page tells ABC News that his class was warned about Foley by people involved in the program.

Other pages told ABC News they were hesitant to report Foley because of his power in Congress.

In essence, the problem was so blatant that pages were being warned about Foley by “people involved in the program.” This means that within the program, it was an unspoken but open secret by people who were in the position to know.

With Foley now out of the picture, news organizations are trying to figure out how long his behavior went on, who it involved, and most significantly, which of his House Republican colleagues knew, or should have known or investigated, the allegations of impropriety.

It is in the last of those three issues where heads much bigger than Foley’s could roll as a result of this scandal.

Because of their knowledge at different points of the allegations against Foley, the big targets of scrutiny in all of this will be:
1) Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert
2) Rep. John Shimkus, chairman of the House Page Board
3) Rep. Tom Reynolds, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee
4) Rep. Rodney Alexander, the congressman who hired the boy that Foley was communicating with.

The question has now extended beyond Foley’s actions, and can be summed up with a paraphrase of Senator Howard Baker’s famous question during the Senate Watergate hearings: What did the House GOP leadership know and when did they know it?

It is very rare to see any Republican violate Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, but in this case nobody could blame them because no one wants to get pegged as covering up for an Internet sex predator. In the end, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was left holding the Foley hot potato by members of his own caucus.

While Majority Leader John Boehner introduced a resolution to have the House Ethics Committee investigate the Foley matter, and it passed unanimously, other Republicans are being more aggressive.

According to an article in today’s New York Times, Rep. Peter King (R-New York) called for a “full investigation.” Rep. Chris Shays (R-Connecticut) raised the rhetoric, telling the Times, “If they (members of the House GOP leadership) knew or should have known the extent of this problem, they should not serve in leadership.” Shays, in the middle of a tough re-election race in his home district, given the facts we know now is implicitly calling for Hastert to go.

Looking at Hastert’s situation, I’d say it’s unclear how this will affect his re-election prospects. I’ve been unable to find any polls for Hastert’s re-election bid this year, as well as the exit poll results from 2004. I think that his leadership position in the House GOP caucus might be in jeopardy, especially if the GOP loses the majority in the House of Representatives and his handling of the Foley issue winds up being a factor in any GOP losses.

Beyond Hastert, I’d say the other member of Congress who might be in trouble for this is Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois), who was filled in on the allegations but did not notify Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Michigan), the only Democrat on the House page board. Given the way it was handled, exclusively within the House GOP caucus with no action taken against Foley, it gives the public and political perception (whether genuine or not) that House Republicans were covering up for Foley for political reasons even though they knew about the allegations for almost a year.

The story could not have come at a worst time for House Republicans – it absolutely dominated the headlines on the last day that Congress was in session, and there is almost a full 5 weeks for any possible scandal to grow legs and bring other people down before Election Day.

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