Hastert Tells Conservative Hell Resign If It Helps
By Alan K. Ota | 9:59 PM; Oct. 04, 2006 |
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told a
leading conservative Wednesday that he would resign as
the top congressional leader if it would help the
Republican Party stave off defeat in November.
But conservative activist Paul Weyrich said Hastert
has rejected calls for his resignation because he
believes it would prompt a feeding frenzy that
ultimately would lead to the downfall of other GOP
leaders as well.
He said if he thought that resigning would be helpful
to the Republicans maintaining the majority, he would
do it. But he did not think it would be helpful for
Republicans, Weyrich said in an interview after
holding what he described as an emotional telephone
conversation with Hastert, who is home in Illinois
campaigning and trying to deal with the fallout from
the Mark Foley scandal.
He said he thought his resignation would just lead to
a feeding frenzy where they would go after (Majority
Leader John A.) Boehner, then (Rep. Thomas M.)
Reynolds, then (Rep. John) Shimkus," Weyrich added.
"And he said we would have the story running right up
to the election.
Weyrich, who was one of the first to publicly call for
the Speakers head, said the conversation has led him
to retract his day-old demand that Hastert resign.
I changed my mind after talking to the Speaker,
Weyrich said. I feel now that he ought to be given
the benefit of the doubt. He has never, ever lied to
me or dissembled. I regard him as one of the good
people up there.
Weyrich, a bridge to conservative constituents, said
Hastert expressed anger at Boehner, R-Ohio, who has
maintained that he warned the Speaker about Foley last
The Speaker was ticked by that one involving
Boehner, Weyrich said. Boehner threw it in his lap,
and said he warned him. The Speaker said no such
warning ever came from Boehner.
The conversation with Weyrich appeared to be part of a
Hastert offensive aimed putting an end to calls for an
immediate resignation over his handling of the
scandal. But there is still increasing talk of
Republican leadership challenges after the Nov. 7
Such a shake-up is virtually assured if Democrats gain
control of the House, but Hastert could step down even
if Republicans hang on.
As lawmakers, lobbyists and pollsters probed the
impact of the Foley case on the elections and the
future makeup of the GOP leadership, the Justice
Department ordered House officials to preserve all
records related to Foleys electronic correspondence
with teen-age congressional pages and former pages.
Hastert Stands Pat
Hastert appears to have dug in against calls for his
resignation, at least in the short term.
In an interview Tuesday with radio talk show host Rush
Limbaugh, Hastert said he has no intention of
resigning and said calls for his ouster are clearly
tied to the elections.
Im not going to do that, Hastert said when asked
about demands for his head. This a political issue .
. . 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, he said.
Social conservatives have been the most vocal critics
of Hasterts handling of the Foley case. But two
prominent House conservatives said Wednesday that he
should not resign.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike Pence of
Indiana and Pennsylvanian Joe Pitts, chairman of the
Values Action Team, said: Regardless of our
reservations about how this matter was handled
administratively, we believe Speaker Hastert is a man
of integrity who has led our conference honorably and
effectively throughout the past eight years. Speaker
Dennis Hastert should not resign.
Another conservative, Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said
calls for Hasterts resignation are misguided, based
on the facts as I know them. I believe in my heart
that neither the Speaker nor any of my colleagues
realized the content of Mr. Foleys instant messages
prior to their release by ABC news last week. Speaker
Hastert is a man of integrity, and I take him at his
Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs
for the National Association of Evangelicals, said
Wednesday that he saw no reason for Hastert to resign
unless there was a systematic coverup.
But he said the leaderships handling of the Foley
scandal could become a pretext or excuse, if
Republicans stay in power, to push for change in the
Next in line behind Hastert is Boehner, who has
provided only fuzzy public accounts of what he knew
and when about e-mails sent by Foley to underage
former congressional pages.
Boehner on Tuesday both defended Hastert in a letter
to the Washington Times after the Times called for
Hasterts resignation in its lead editorial and
publicly distanced himself from the Speaker in an
interview with a Cincinnati radio station.
In the radio interview, Boehner said: I believe I
talked to the Speaker and he told me it had been taken
care of. And, and, and my position is its in his
corner, its his responsibility. The Clerk of the
House who runs the page program, the Page Board all
report to the Speaker. And I believe it had been dealt
On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that
Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the No. 3 man in the
leadership, said he would have handled it differently
if he had known about it. Blunt was the acting
majority leader when the Foley e-mail to an underage
Louisiana former page first came to the attention of
I think I could have given some good advice here,
which is you have to be curious, you have to ask all
the questions you can think of, Blunt said. You
absolutely cant decide not to look into activities
because one individuals parents dont want you to.
House GOP leadership aides said there appears to be no
move among members to oust Hastert or Boehner.
Everything weve heard from the members individually
has been generally positive, and there has been a lot
of support for the Speaker and the leaders, one
Republican leadership aide said. Obviously members
have concerns about the specifics of what theyve
heard, but in general weve gotten a lot of support.
The problem is, there is no control over what happens
next, whether another hammer could drop or some other
lurid detail comes out. There is no control over
Another House GOP aide said Wednesday, If the Speaker
were to step down, or not run again . . . the next guy
is going to have to be squeaky clean, which is why you
see Boehner putting some daylight between him and the
A slate of challengers for other leadership positions
could develop quickly. Republicans will meet the week
after Election Day to choose their leaders for the
Mike Rogers, R-Mich., is reportedly considering
running against Blunt. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and
Jack Kingston, R-Ga., are both reportedly weighing a
bid for GOP Conference chairman a position occupied
by Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, who is locked in a
difficult re-election contest back home.
Other races are possible on the bottom rungs of the
Polls conducted in the wake of Foleys Sept. 29
resignation offered a somewhat mixed picture but no
good news for Republicans. A CNN poll taken Sept.
29-Oct. 2 and released Tuesday, found 57 percent of
those queried still believe their own member of
Congress deserves re-election; 33 percent disagreed,
while 10 percent had no opinion. Only 38 percent of
those surveyed said most GOP incumbents should be
re-elected, while 53 percent said most Democrats in
Congress deserve re-election.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted last
weekend and released Tuesday night showed 41 percent
of those surveyed said news they have seen and heard
over the past few weeks has made them less favorable
toward continued Republican control of Congress; 18
percent disagreed. By 34-23 percent, respondents said
they were more favorably inclined toward Democratic
At a more partisan level, Democratic operatives Stan
Greenberg and James Carville said a new survey for
Democracy Corps, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan
Rosner, shows a crash in the standing of the
Their survey, they said, shows Democrats have made
significant gains on the Republicans on the issues of
Iraq, national security, and on values. The survey
also finds a demoralization of Republicans with a
widening gap in enthusiasm between Republican and
Democratic voters heading into the November
Manu Raju, Martin Kady II and Susan Ferrechio
contributed to this story.