Monday, October 16, 2006

Scandal Begets Scandal: GOP Leaders Ignored a 2nd Congressman's Bad Behavior to Preserve Their Majority

They Looked the Other Way As a Conservative Pennsylvania Republican Allegedly Assaulted a Woman With Whom He Was Having an Extramarital Affair -- Meanwhile, the Foley and Abramoff Scandals Take a Darker Turn

EXTRA: Gay Ex-Congressman Gerry Studds Is Dead at Age 69

(Updated 2:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, October 17, 2006)

By Skeeter Sanders

With only three weeks to go before voters go to the polls, it has come to light that Mark Foley was not the only Republican member of Congress whose bad behavior was ignored by House GOP leaders determined to preserve their party's majority.

A second, conservative GOP congressman in 2004 allegedly assaulted a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. No criminal charges were ever filed, but as in the Foley case, the House Republican leadership knew about the second congressman's indiscretions, but took no disciplinary action against him.

Unlike Foley, however, this second congressman is not only married, he is also a darling of the Religious Right and is one of the GOP's most effective fundraisers.

Instead of disciplining him for his bad behavior, House GOP leaders allowed Representative Don Sherwood (R-Pennsylvania) to keep his seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee -- a plum assignment, even though Sherwood has been in the House for only six years.

They also -- apparently with an eye toward the November 7 election -- allowed Sherwood to to stay on as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee's chief fundraising arm, despite public exposure of his affair and of the alleged assault -- including a $5.5 million civil lawsuit filed against him by his former mistress.

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GERRY STUDDS, FIRST OPENLY GAY MEMBER OF CONGRESS, DIES AT 69

The Associated Press

BOSTON -- Former Representative Gerry Studds, who became the first openly gay member of Congress when he was exposed having sex with a teenaged male page in 1983, died early Saturday, He was 69.

Studds died at Boston Medical Center several days after he collapsed while walking his dog, Studds' husband, Dean Hara, told reporters Monday. Doctors determined his loss of consciousness was due to a blood clot in his lung, Hara said.

Studds regained consciousness and seemed to be improving, but his condition deteriorated Friday because of a second blood clot. The origin of the second clot was not immediately determined, said Hara, who married Studds shortly after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts in 2004.

Studds was first elected in 1972 and represented Cape Cod and the Islands, New Bedford, and the South Shore for 12 congressional terms. He retired from Congress in 1997.

In 1983, Studds came out of the closet after a 27-year-old man disclosed that he had a sexual relationship with Studds a decade earlier, when the man was a teenaged congressional page. The House of Representatives censured Studds, who then went home to face his constituents in a series of public meetings.

In addition to Hara, Studds is survived by a brother, a sister, and four nephews.

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Sherwood a Favorite of the Religious Right on Abortion, Gay Marriage

Sherwood, one of the staunchest social conservatives in Congress, was a co-sponsor of the controversial "partial-birth" abortion law that bans late-term abortions -- its constitutionality will be argued next month in the Supreme Court -- and of unsuccessful constitutional amendments to outlaw flag-burning and same-sex marriage.

Sherwood racked up a voting record that scored him an approval rating of anywhere between 84 and 100 percent by the Christian Coalition and the National Right to Life Committee, according to an analysis by Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan, nonprofit clearinghouse for information on national candidates.

The 64-year-old Sherwood was considered a shoo-in to win a fourth term in his House district in central and northeastern Pennsylvania -- until his affair with a 29-year-old Maryland woman was exposed late last year when the woman filed her lawsuit against him.

In the suit, Cynthia Ore, a resident of Rockville, Maryland, accused Sherwood of having been physically abusive toward her throughout their five-year affair -- including an alleged attempt to strangle her during a particularly violent incident a year ago at Sherwood's Washington apartment.

Sherwood, who has been married for 33 years, admitted to having the affair with Ore, but denied that he assaulted her in what police said was a "domestic disturbance."

A Back Rub That Suddenly Turned Violent

According to an incident report filed by the D.C. Metropolitan Police, Sherwood was playing host to Ore in his apartment overlooking Capitol Hill. He was giving Ore a back rub when allegedly attempted to strangle her for no apparent reason.

Ore jumped up, ran into the bathroom and dialed 911 on her cell phone, police said.

When officers arrived at Sherwood's apartment, Ore told them that Sherwood choked her, but she declined to press criminal charges against him -- to the dismay of one of the officers. "Both parties have left out significant information or are not willing to discuss in detail what actually happened," police said.

One of the officers took photographs of Ore's injuries and said that Sherwood "should have been arrested on the spot," according to Sherwood's hometown newspaper, the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre. The newspaper quote Ore as having told police that she was to meet Sherwood at his apartment, but arrived late, which angered Sherwood.

For his part, Sherwood hotly denied having had an affair with Ore, telling police at the time of the incident that she was "an acquaintance," but refusing to say why she was with him in his apartment, the Times Leader reported.

Six months later, Ore filed her lawsuit. Sherwood then confessed to having the affair and apologized to his wife and his constituents. Sherwood and Ore reached an out-of-court settlement in September for an undisclosed sum.

Big-Time Fallout For Sherwood -- But No Disciplinary Action By GOP Leaders

The political fallout from the Sherwood-Ore affair has been devastating for the three-term incumbent. His Democratic challenger, Chris Carney, has been leading Sherwood in the polls for weeks.

On September 30, Carney began airing a hard-hitting TV ad that zeroed in on Sherwood's affair, featuring a former Sherwood supporter who told viewers that it "just cuts right at the core values of our district."

Sherwood was forced to respond on October 5 with an ad of his own, in which he apologized for "disappointing" his constituents and for having "made a mistake that nearly cost me the love of my wife and family."

Yet incredibly -- as in the Foley scandal -- House Republican leaders took no action to discipline Sherwood, despite the negative publicity. They apparently considered him too valuable a player for the GOP to lose him in the party's increasingly uphill struggle to keep control of Congress.

How Valuable Was Sherwood to the GOP? Plenty

As the man in charge of fundraising for the NRCCC, Sherwood raised tens of millions of dollars. As chairman of the NRCCC's incumbent retention committee, Sherwood reported directly to his boss, Representative Thomas Reynolds (R-New York), the NRCCC chairman -- the same House Republican leader now embroiled in the Foley scandal.

Reynolds has come under fire from Democrats -- and even from some of his fellow Republicans -- for not doing enough to protect teenaged Capitol Hill pages from the online sexual advances of Foley, who abruptly resigned from Congress on September 29, just hours before ABC News broke the story of his sexually explicit Internet messages.

Primarily because of the Foley scandal, both Reynolds and embattled House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) backed out from appearances at a fundraiser for Sherwood that is scheduled for Thursday night at a local college in Sherwood's district.

A GOP spokesman insisted last week that "scheduling conflicts," rather than the scandal, prevented Reynolds and Hastert from making their appearances. But in the past two weeks, dozens of Republican congressional candidates have "disinvited" Reynolds and Hastert from their campaign rallies.

Bush to Go to Bat For Sherwood, Despite Scandal

But the Sherwood-Ore scandal apparently isn't going to stop President Bush from going to bat for the embattled congressman; the president intends to appear at Thursday's Sherwood fundraiser, regardless. "The president has made a commitment, and he's going to fulfill his commitment," White House press secretary Tony Snow said Friday.

"Mr. Sherwood has certainly admitted to what has gone on, and the president also believes that we're all sinners, we all seek forgiveness, and in this particular case, he's supporting Don Sherwood's candidacy," Snow said.

Reynolds and Hastert are fighting for their political lives as much as Sherwood is fighting for his. Indeed, for Republican candidates -- including a growing number of incumbents who were considered shoo-ins for re-election before the scandal broke -- "Foleygate" is becoming as lethal to them politically as kryptonite is to Superman physically.

Bush acknowledged as much at a White House news conference last Wednesday. "This Foley issue bothers a lot of people, including me," the president told reporters. But he insisted that "Americans will care more about national security and the economy" when they walk into the voting booth.

Karl Rove Pressured Foley Not to Retire, Magazine Says

So determined was the Republican leadership in preserving their Capitol Hill majority -- especially in the House -- that they were apparently willing to look the other way at both Foley and Sherwood's bad behavior, even as evidence mounted of Foley's online lust for Capitol Hill page boys.

So did the White House, according to a published report.

Foley was, as recently as last January, seriously considering retiring from Congress and launch a new career as a lobbyist, The New Republic magazine reported Friday in its Internet edition. Citing a source close to the disgraced six-term former congressman from Florida, the magazine reported that Foley decided instead to seek a seventh term.

What prompted Foley to change his mind? Apparently, pressure from the White House. According to The New Republic, the president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove -- himself under indictment for his role in the Valerie Plame CIA leak scandal -- pressured Foley to run again.

"They're Scared of Losing the House"

The magazine, quoted its source as saying that the White House "made it very clear that Foley had to run" to preserve the Republicans' majority in the House and that Rove warned Foley that if he retired, it might have a "negative impact" on his future lobbying career.

"I thought you wanted out of this," The New Republic quoted its source as having told Foley. "And he said, 'I do, but they're scared of losing the House [to the Democrats] and the thought of two years of [Democrat-led] investigations [into the war in Iraq, the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina and other White House policies], so I have two more years of duty.'"

But then the Foley sex scandal broke on September 29, forcing him to immediately terminate his congressional tenure and political career -- and all but guaranteeing that his House will be won by a Democrat, as Foley's resignation came too late to remove his name from the ballot.

Although the GOP nominated Joe Negron to replace Foley, his name will not appear on the ballot -- forcing voters who want to vote to Negron to cast a ballot for Foley.

Florida Democrats sued Friday to prevent Republicans from posting Election Day notices at polling places telling voters that a vote for Foley would actually be a vote for Negron. The Democrats charge that the notices violate a state law that prohibits "partisan electioneering" at polling stations.

Jack Abramoff Scandal Comes Back to Also Haunt Republicans

And let's not forget that the Republicans are mired in a host of other scandals -- one of which came roaring back into the news big time on Friday when Representative Bob Ney (R-Ohio) pleaded guilty to corruption charges in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal that has rocked both Capitol Hill and the White House.

Ney pleaded guilty to accepting tens of thousands of dollars of illegal gifts from Abramoff in exchange for favors to Abramoff and his clients. He also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements.

Ney faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, but prosecutors recommended a term of just over two years and a fine of between $4,000 and $60,000, in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines.

GOP Panics as Ney Balks at Quitting His House Seat

In a surprise announcement, Ney said he would not immediately resign his $165,000-a-year House seat -- touching off a panic among Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, fearful that having a convicted felon staying on the congressional payroll would destroy their already-uphill struggle to dig out from under the Foley affair.

Although Ney abandoned his re-election bid in August, he said that he needed "a few weeks" to make sure that his staff is taken care of before stepping down.

Almost immediately after Ney announced that he wouldn't resign, House Republican leaders demanded that he step down "immediately" -- and vowed to expel him when they returned for a "lame-duck" post-election session in November if he didn't.

The White House -- apparently fearful that an already-likely Democratic takeover of the House could turn into a landslide takeover if Ney stays in office -- also demanded that he "immediately" step down.

Trouble is, even if GOP leaders make good on their threat to expel Ney, the voters are likely to throw him -- and several of his fellow Republicans -- out of office on November 7 anyway, making his post-election expulsion moot.

A GOP Double-Standard?

It's ironic that the Republicans are screaming for Ney's head now. Why weren't they screaming for Foley's head when they found out three years ago about his online sexual advances on the Capitol Hill page boys?

Why weren't they screaming for Sherwood's head when they found out last year about his adulterous affair and alleged assault on his former mistress?

And what about their now-disgraced "boss of all bosses," Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who was forced to resign as House majority leader 13 months ago after he was indicted on charges of conspiring to violate a Texas state law barring corporate contributions in state legislative races?

(DeLay, his power eclipsed, resigned from Congress altogether in June).

What does this sorry record of corruption say about a party that has spent the better part of the past two decades billing itself as the party of high moral and ethical values?

How many other GOP members of Congress have been behaving badly and we don't yet know about it because the party leadership is so determined to preserve their control of Capitol Hill that they're willing to give them a "boys-will-be-boys" wink and a nod -- Ney notwithstanding?

No wonder the Republicans are running scared.

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Volume I, Number 48
Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.








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