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Sex Scandal Prompts Sen. Larry Craig to Resign

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

He watched one Republican after another abandon him. Today in Boise, Idaho's embattled Senator Larry Craig announced he will leave office at the end of the month.

Senator LARRY CRAIG (Republican, Idaho): To Idahoans I represent, to my staff, my Senate colleagues, but most importantly, to my wife and my family, I apologize for what I have caused. I am deeply sorry.

ELLIOTT: Joining us now from Boise, where Senator Craig made his announcement, is NPR's Martin Kaste.

Martin, this marks the end of a career for someone who's been a fixture in Idaho politics for 35 years. What was the scene there today?

MARTIN KASTE: Well, it was really something of an artificial media moment. It was all very pre-organized. There was this setting that the Craig staff picked out for the cameras, overlooking the city of Boise with the State Capitol Dome in the background and the mountains. It was all very picturesque but also very scripted. Senator Craig never departed from his script. And he didn't even break his stride more than half a second when a few hecklers broke out in the crowd and jeered him. So it was very much on message. No clear emotion visible here.

ELLIOTT: Did Senator Craig make any reference to the arrest in the men's room at the Minneapolis Airport?

KASTE: He didn't refer to it directly, except to say that he can't control what people think of him. He said his name is very important to him, of course. And he said, now, he would like to explore his legal options in terms of clearing his name. What that means, it's hard to say since most legal experts say it's very difficult to take back a guilty plea - in this case, it would be a disorderly conduct guilty plea - once you've made it. But certainly, he's interested in trying to clear his name in some way.

ELLIOTT: Larry Craig has seen virtually the entire Republican establishment pull away from him over this past week. Today, he did thank the few friends who remained by his side. Let's listen.

Sen. CRAIG: For any public official at this moment in time, to be standing with Larry Craig is, in itself, a humbling experience.

ELLIOTT: Martin, who was there?

KASTE: Well, there were local Republicans, state Republicans, nobody of national reputation visible because, really, national Republicans, as you say, have backed away from him. So I think most important to the senator was the presence of the governor - Republican Governor Butch Otter, who throughout this ordeal has refrained from criticizing Senator Craig in public and, even at one point, made a remark about how these events really show you who your friends are. So I think that his presence was very important to Senator Craig.

ELLIOTT: There is a sense that the Republican leaders in Washington wanted Larry Craig to resign. They did not want the scandal hanging over their heads during the upcoming election. What are you hearing from the constituents there in Idaho and the way they perceived the way this has played out?

KASTE: Well, I think that's right. People here really talk about how the final shove here came from Washington, D.C. Idaho Republicans were not supporting Larry Craig, but they were also not going after him publicly. It was a very, sort of, pained silence here. And as the week wore on, the unsourced reports in the wires and elsewhere about the imminence of his resignation were really coming out of Washington, D.C. There was a sense here that that drumbeat was a national drumbeat.

ELLIOTT: What happens now as far as naming a replacement for the senator?

KASTE: Well, that's up to the governor, Butch Otter. He, as a Republican, of course, will name another Republican. And the question here now is whether or not he picks a placeholder, as they say, some emeritus figure who'll just finish out the yearend change that Senator Craig would have left or whether he'll pick someone like the lieutenant governor, Jim Risch, who is politically ambitious and would likely run for reelection in his own right.

Obviously, the Democrats here would very much like to see a placeholder because they don't want to face an incumbent. You never want to do that. But I am pretty sure the governor was not going to listen to them on what they think he should do. I think we might be seeing here another very ambitious Republican taking Senator Craig's place.

ELLIOTT: Martin, Senator Craig said his resignation is effective on September 30th. Congress comes back to work next week after the long summer recess. Is there any indication of whether Senator Craig might show up for work next Tuesday?

KASTE: I think that's a really good question that we can't really answer right now. He's talked about this final month that he's given himself as a transition period. He'd like to move some of his staff over to the new person, whoever that may be. Whether he has to be there in person to do that is probably not necessary.

Whether or not there will be some crucial votes where the Republicans have to have him present, that might force the issue. If he does come back to the Capitol, I think it will be a very low-key visit.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Martin Kaste in Boise, Idaho. Thanks so much.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Debbie Elliott
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.