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Craig Set to Join Flurry of GOP Exits

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

In Washington, D.C., Labor Day weekend marks the end of the August doldrums, the beginning of a busy fall season for politics in government. That's the way it's supposed to work, but this August the political grit has never cooled down even for a week. And we certainly can't expect the holiday weekend to be much cooler.

We're joined now by NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving.

Ron, thanks very much for being with us.

RON ELVING: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: What's keeping people who were in politics focused this particular weekend? There must be - there are six or seven things we could talk about.

ELVING: Indeed, but most immediately, of course, it's Senator Larry Craig, the conservative Republican from Idaho. His resignation is expected to come later today. He's already essentially been given three stages of notice that he's not welcome back.

First of all, the Senate Republicans said they were going to have the ethics committee investigate him, that was right - the first day. Then the second thing was they stripped him of seniority with respect to his committee assignments -that's essentially a death sentence for a senator.

And then there were a number of calls for him to resign without any visible signs of support. His own Senate Republican leader said his behavior had been unforgivable.

SIMON: It is like 45 years since Walter Jenkins, Lyndon Johnson's very close aide for many years in the White House, had to resign because of being found of - public restroom, I believe in the YMCA in Washington, D.C.

ELVING: YMCA downtown here in Washington.

SIMON: Are the American people just more affected by reports of gay sex than heterosexual adultery?

ELVING: I believe there's been a great deal of change over those 45 years in the American people. I'm not sure it's fully reflected in their elected representatives. A year ago, the Republicans in the House were hit by the Mark Foley scandal, which was a gay scandal, and many of them feel to this day cost them control of the Congress in the election in November.

So hit with another gay scandal now, they are reacting with a level of outrage and a level of non-forgiveness that we did not see when another Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, was caught up in the D.C. Madam scandal.

He was not, in any way, shape or form, drummed out of the club, as Larry Craig has been. And I think people can draw their own conclusions from that.

SIMON: At least a couple of other prominent Republicans are leaving, too.

ELVING: John Warner, 80 years old, a 30-year veteran of the Senate, longtime chairman of the Armed Services Committee and recently a voice for beginning, at least, a partial withdrawal from Iraq. Tony Snow, the president's...

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: ...press secretary, someone who has been perhaps the most successful spokesman for George W. Bush that he has had. And, of course Alberto Gonzales, the president's attorney general. And yesterday was also the last day in the White House for Karl Rove, the president's principal political adviser.

SIMON: I want to ask while we have the chance about the presidential primary season that seems to be coming, I wouldn't be surprised if the first vote is by the end of next week at this particular point. I mean, when will this madness cease?

ELVING: Well, it will not cease in this cycle. Clearly, the parties have lost control of their own monster here. But it's not clear how that system comes about. Congress doesn't have the authority. The parties obviously cannot enforce discipline on their individual state parties. It's not clear where the discipline is going to come from.

SIMON: I want to ask you about campaign fundraising. A well-known contributor, Norman Hsu, actually turned himself over on an arrest warrant on Friday. This is somebody who's - has generously contributed money to the campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton, but not just Senator Clinton's campaign.

ELVING: Yes, it's a nasty bruise, too, for Barack Obama who's been trying to run a-cleaner-than-thou campaign thus far. And he's going to have to give some money back from Norman Hsu. This is another embarrassment for these candidates because they're obviously out there grubbing for money from everybody they can get it from.

And while they do have a vetting process, obviously they're eager to have the vetting process turn these people up clean and not dirty. So everyone's going to have to go back to their process and say, we've got to get tougher.

SIMON: Thanks very much. NPR's Ron Elving.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. 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.

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Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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