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GOP Turmoil

Speaker Dennis Hastert is not out of the woods, NBC's Mike Viqueira suggests.  The Republican rank and file are generally big Hastert fans and he has a lot of goodwill within the conference, so it would take a lot for there to be an organized call for his ouster.  Having said that, members are also waiting to see if Hastert can turn the corner and get this behind him, and the sense is that he has another day or so to pull that off.  Members also worry about another shoe dropping in the scandal.  There's been talk about whether the ouster of a Hastert aide would quiet things down, and also talk of Hastert possibly giving up his post after the election.  Viq says that the fact that Congress is not in session works in Hastert's favor because were they all gathered on Capitol Hill, it would be an absolute circus up there, with members constantly having to stop and comment to the press. 

Viq also reports that the House Ethics Committee will gather for a closed-door session tomorrow. 

The Wall Street Journal games out the politics of replacing Hastert: "Any abrupt departure could also disrupt the rest of the leadership in the final weeks of the campaign.  And one of the Republicans' weaknesses is that they have no clear transition figure...  The damage from the scandal complicates the picture because the office of the speaker is elected by the full House.  If Republicans lose seats, any small block of conservatives unhappy with the party's leadership would gain more say."

After Bush spoke up in Hastert's defense yesterday, White House spokesperson Dana Perino told reporters last night that Bush has not talked with Hastert in the last few days because he wants to allow investigators to do their work.  "He wants to know all the facts, and he knows that the Speaker wants to know all the facts." 

Hastert is stepping up his suggestions that the publicizing of Foley's e-mails and instant messages was a political ploy meant to hurt Republicans in the midterms, and while some conservatives are calling for his resignation, others support his argument.  Hastert told Rush Limbaugh yesterday, "...[W]hat we've tried to do as the Republican Party is make a better economy, protect this country against terrorism... and there are some people that try to tear us down.  We are the insulation to protect this country, and if they get to me it looks like they could affect our election as well."  Limbaugh replied, "...[I]t's clear to me that what the Democrats are doing here in some sort of cooperation with some in the media is to suppress conservative turnout..."

And in an interview with a local radio station in his hometown of Plano, IL yesterday, Hastert claimed responsibility for the situation but added, "on the other hand, this has been mysteriously dropped on us the last day of the session, just before the election," and called it "an October surprise that keeps us from getting our message out." 

Conservative activist Richard Viguerie told NBC yesterday that Republicans will lose their majority this fall and that it's for the best.  He offered the analogy of the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years, saying conservatives are in the same boat: "We're not going to get to the political Promised Land until we have new leaders."  He added, "The one thing that we've got to avoid at this point -- above everything else -- is a cover-up.  We don't need to wait until the FBI comes back with their report after the election.  We need to get to the bottom of this, and we need to get to it now." 

Moderate Republicans who happen to be in tight races this fall are also stepping forward.  GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee, one of his party's most vulnerable Senate incumbents on the ballot, has called on any Republican leader found to have been involved in a cover-up of the Foley scandal to step down.  Chafee will be joined on the trail today by Sen. John McCain (R), who's scheduled to talk about the environment -- but may also wind up having to talk about this.

Another top Republican who may be confronted by questions about this today: Laura Bush, who's in Buffalo to raise money for Rep. Tom Reynolds and does a radio interview on youth issues.  Reynolds, the party's House campaign committee chief, is caught up in the scandal because he was informed of the e-mails early on and has claimed that he told Hastert about them last spring.  The Buffalo News says that "if anyone has ever needed first lady Laura Bush to come to the rescue, it's [Reynolds]." 

Yesterday saw some daylight between Hastert and his lieutenants, NBC's Viq reports, even though Majority Leader John Boehner came to Hastert's defense by denouncing a newspaper editorial calling for Hastert's resignation.  One front on which conflicting statements were made was on when Hastert first learned of the Foley e-mails -- any Foley e-mails.  Hastert told NBC on Monday night that the first time he learned of the e-mails was last Friday, the day Foley resigned.  "I have to say that I don't recall anyone telling me about 'em.  I heard about them the same time (as the more salacious e-mails) on Friday afternoon." 

But on Monday night in Buffalo, Reynolds said that when he heard about the e-mails in the spring, he reported them to Hastert.  Citing his sexual harassment training, he said, "I was educated to take to the supervisor...  The Speaker of the House is my supervisor."  And yesterday on local radio back home in Cincinnati, Majority Leader John Boehner reported that he did the same.  "I believe I talked to the Speaker and he told me that it had been taken care of."

Roll Call notes that "while Members and outside groups rallied behind Hastert" yesterday, "other, more vulnerable Republicans appear to be distancing themselves from leadership as a whole.  Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), who is locked in one of the most competitive races this cycle..., canceled a scheduled Monday fundraiser with Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), 'because he felt it was inappropriate to move ahead with it as planned.'"

Hastert's 32-year-old Democratic opponent back home claims to the Washington Times that he's seeing more support now because of how Hastert has handled the Foley affair.