Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hastert Tells Conservative He’ll Resign If It Helps GOP

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 Speaker’s 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 spring.

“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 midterm elections.

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 Foley’s electronic correspondence with teen-age congressional pages and former pages.

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