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.)
Responding to the effort to scapegoat the GOP’s Lavender Bund, gay Hill GOPers told reporters they had years ago warned Hastert’s office about Foley. These gay Republicans were essentially declaring: we ratted out one of our own, so don’t blame us for Hastert having not done anything. As this intra-Republican sniping between gays and heteros transpired, gay politicos outside Republican circles began circulating what they called The List–a roster of two dozen or so gay senior Republican staffers in the House and Senate. With a possible shoot-out about to ensue within the Republican caucus, these gay politicos–who have long been upset with gays who serve a Republican party that opposes gay rights and embraces outfits that demonize gays and lesbians–were hoping to pour gasoline on the fire. They passed the list to social conservative groups outside the Republican party with a message: maybe this is why your political agenda is not racing through this GOP-controlled Congress. Their goal is obvious–to set off a civil war within the Republican party.
The Kolbe news is all the more intriguing because of these behind-the-scenes scuffles. Will Republicans and social conservatives who were looking to blame gay Republicans for the Foley scandal now revive their efforts to dump the blame on Velvet mafioso within their midst? They can argue that Kolbe, one of them, did not do enough in 2000 after he learned of the Foley problem. But can Kolbe really be made the fall guy? Any GOPer who tries to adopt such a strategy will encounter problems. Kolbe is already retiring at the end of this year. That means he cannot resign in disgrace and provide the Republicans cover. Moreover, Hastert has yet to explain away the claims of congressional aides that his office was informed about Foley’s sexual interest in pages several years ago. So even if Kolbe did not share the bad news with Hastert’s office; others say they did. What’s undeniable is that Hastert did not take the appropriate steps. (There is also an allegation that a drunken Foley tried to gain entrance to the page’s residence in 2002 or 2003.)
Back to Representative Putnam, the NRCC’s loyal foot solider. Drip, drip, drip. This story is hardly over. He may want to rethink that bet.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR: Tom Brokaw says “Hubris, the new best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq.” Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, “The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it.” For more information on Hubris, click here.