When the story broke of Republican Senator Larry Craig's arrest and guilty plea for toe-tapping in the boy's room of the Minneapolis Airport, the Republican leadership threatened an ethics hearing to force Craig to resign. Now Craig has called their bluff by refusing to resign his seat and pledging to complete his term.
Congressional Republicans are now in a sticky position in that the heavy-handed tactics that they used to try to force Craig out have the serious potential of blowing up in their faces and doing more damage to the party than to Craig. Republicans are already facing a series of ethical and sexual scandals that has the party facing the possibility of major losses in the 2008 elections. There is nothing to be gained from a very public and very messy Ethics Committee investigation into Craig's affinity for public bathrooms and who among the Senate Republicans knew what when.
The Senate Democrats, while not minding a public spectacle that will further paint the GOP as a "culture of corruption," are not wanting to set precedent that may come back to haunt them in the future if and when the Republicans become a majority in Congress again.
There is also the definite possibility of a media frenzy laced with homophobia and grossly inaccurate stereotypes of gay men as predators stalking public areas relentlessly for sex. The coverage of the Craig scandal has already prompted an increase in police sting operations including one in Tennessee in which 40 men were arrested.
Senator Barbara Boxer D-CA is the chair of the Senate Ethics Committee and her spokesperson says that they are in the process of conducting a preliminary inquiry which is closed to the public. The committee, which is composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, will then decide whether or not to move to an adjudicatory phase during which the hearings would be open to the public unless the committee votes otherwise.
One possibility is that the committee will take its sweet time in seeking testimony, questioning witnesses and the like as a way of running down the clock until the issue either fades from view, Craig reconsiders his decision not to resign or his term is up. Congress is now rushing to complete its business in order to adjourn for the year and with elections coming up next year, both Democrats and Republicans are going to be focused on their electoral futures and potentially too busy to investigate Craig.
In any event its remarkable to see the difference in the way that this scandal has played out versus the David Vitter prostitute scandal. Senator Vitter admitted to committing a "serious sin" after his phone number was found in the records of the infamous D.C. Madame. Stories later surfaced of Vitter's other experiences with hookers. The key difference, of course, is that Vitter's adulterous relationships were with women and Craig was seeking sex with other men. Hence Vitter received a standing ovation from his Republican colleagues after returning from a congressional recess whereas Craig has been shunned like a used scrap of toilet paper.
After they have tried to cast him aside, do the Republicans really want to have a public ethics investigation of Craig and the messiness that will surround it?