From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby
Five weeks out... Just shy of eight years ago, a fellow Republican's personal scandal launched Rep. Dennis Hastert to the Speaker's post. Now Hastert faces the prospect of his tenure being ended by another member's personal scandal and his own difficulties in managing it. L'Affair Foley could be another nail in the coffin of the GOP's House majority, as NBC political analyst Charlie Cook says. Democratic candidates for the House and Senate attacked their Republican opponents yesterday for fundraising and other connections to the resigned Congressman. And, Hastert might be compelled to heed calls from conservatives, now including Washington's second most prominent newspaper, that he resign over his handling of the scandal.
As we wrote yesterday, the Foley scandal conveys a politically risky sense of entitlement among the majority party just weeks before election day. Even now, as they try to contain the scandal, Republicans aren't involving Democrats. Rep. Dale Kildee, the sole Democratic member on the House page board, decried changes to the page program that were made by Republicans yesterday, on which he was not consulted: "...once again, the House Republican leadership is following the same pattern of unilateral decision-making that caused this problem in the first place."
It also has the potential to deflate the party's base and to undermine any efforts by GOP candidates to play the moral values card over the next five weeks. Even before the scandal broke, social conservatives were reportedly dismayed by how little of their agenda the majority acted on this year. On moral values now, in addition to government spending and growth, conservatives may see Republican leaders as having lost their moorings.
And, the scandal also has GOP leaders giving conflicting accounts of who knew what and when, putting them at risk of being discredited and making them look as though they weren't aware of what was going on in their own ranks. Rep. Tom Reynolds (R), chair of the House GOP campaign committee, who himself faces a tough challenge to his re-election bid, had to distance himself from Hastert over the weekend by saying he told Hastert what he knew of Foley's e-mails to pages. Reynolds held a news conference in his Buffalo district last night to repeat as much. Laura Bush, who's heading to Buffalo tomorrow to raise money for him, now has a radio interview about youth issues on her schedule.
Is this a good time for President Bush to be raising money for two Republican House members who have ties to Jack Abramoff, along with other ethical issues? Both Reps. Richard Pombo and John Doolittle also intervened in a federal probe of a big campaign contributor. Still, Bush raises money for them in California today. On the one hand, the presidential stops may be unfortunately timed given the release late last week of a House committee report detailing how Abramoff and his lobbying associates had 485 contacts with the White House from January 2001 to March 2004. On the other hand, the fact that the White House saw fit to schedule these back-to-back events at all reflects how this particular scandal has faded as an issue since the lobbyist had his perp walk in January.
Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is on an eerily parallel track with House Republicans in trying to manage fallout, including conflicting accounts, over Bob Woodward's book. President Bush will try to regain some momentum on the war on terror today. Per White House spokesperson Dana Perino, he'll use some new language in his speeches today in an effort to highlight "the differences in approach and philosophy in fighting the global war on terror," Perino said. Bush will try to draw attention to Democratic "infighting and contradictions," as Perino suggested, over last week's votes on the NSA warrantless surveillance and detainee trial and treatment legislation. "The Democrats say they share the goal of fighting the war on terror aggressively but their votes in the House and Senate tell a different story," Perino said. We may hear him use the "cut and run" line again.
Bush also headlines a $1.3 million, closed-press fundraiser for the Republican National Committee in Los Angeles before heading to Scottsdale, AZ for the night.