I appeared on ABC News This Week yesterday, as a member of its roundtable. (You can get a podcast of the show here.) Prior to that segment, Representative Adam Putnam of Florida, who chairs the House Republican Policy Committee, debated Representative Rahm Emanuel, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on the Foley-Hastert affair. Representative Tom Reynolds, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was originally scheduled to be in the GOP slot. Though Reynolds has been incriminated in the Mark Foley scandal and is now in danger of losing his seat in upstate New York, he had surprisingly accepted ABC News’ invitation to appear on the show and be questioned by George Stephanopoulos. Common sense finally prevailed, and Reynolds pulled out. As Putnam recounted in the green room before the show, Putnam had been in Florida hunting doves when the call came from Reynolds’ NRCC with an order for Putnam: you have to go on the Sunday talk show. Putnam saluted and flew back to Washington.
On the show, Putnam, naturally, defended House Speaker Denny Hastert. It was a hard case to argue, but he did the best he could in the face of Emanuel’s assault. That’s what you’re expected to do when you’re a junior (though ambitious) member of your party’s leadership. But it may not be cost-free–and Putnam seems to know that. After he was done and about to leave the studio, I remarked to him, “You’re betting nothing else is going to come out on this.” He nodded but rolled his eyes, adding, “In Washington, that’s a dangerous bet.”
Indeed it is. The news the next day (via The Washington Post) was that Representative Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican who is openly gay, confronted Foley in 2000 after a former page complained to Kolbe that Foley had sent him sexually explicit Internet messages. The newspaper noted it was not clear whether Kolbe did anything beyond talk to Foley. But this development means that the Foley problem was known within GOP circles for six years. Hastert, though, has claimed he knew nothing about Foley’s conduct until the day the story broke–even though statements from GOP legislators and staffers suggest his office was informed of the Foley problem years earlier.
Putnam’s bet doesn’t look so hot right now.
The Kolbe revelation might prompt Republicans to revive their criticism of the so-called Velvet Mafia: that small group of gay Republicans. As I’ve written about earlier (see here), at the start of the scandal, some within the House Republican caucus were griping that the party had been done in by GOP gays on Capitol Hill who had supposedly covered for Foley for years. (At the same time, social conservative allies of the party publicly blamed the gay rights agenda for somehow leading to Foley’s page-pursuing troubles.)