BY JOHN STAMPER, firstname.lastname@example.org
Republican leaders on Thursday stepped up pressure on Idaho Sen. Larry Craig as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called his conduct ''unforgivable'' and the chairman of the Senate Republican reelection committee suggested that Craig should resign.
Both senators stopped short of calling for Craig's resignation, but their prominence in the Senate Republican leadership gave their comments added weight at a time when Craig's political future already is precarious. McConnell, of Kentucky, is the leader and chief strategist of Senate Republicans, and Sen. John Ensign of Nevada heads the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which provides financial help and strategy advice to Republican Senate candidates.
The news broke Monday that Craig had pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct.
Police were investigating an allegation that he solicited sex from a male undercover police officer in a Minneapolis airport restroom.
When he was pressed about his colleague's future, McConnell declined to say whether he thought Craig should resign.
But he said many Republican senators thought he should.
''We have acted promptly to begin the process of dealing with this conduct,'' McConnell said in Lexington, Ky.
McConnell and other Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday removed the three-term Idaho senator from his leadership posts on Senate committees and subcommittees. They also have asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate.
Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, chairman of the national Republican Party, called Craig's situation ``very troubling, very disappointing.''
But Martinez, who has been traveling in Iraq, told The Miami Herald in a telephone interview from Jordan that he'd wait to get back to Washington ``to opine on his [Craig's] service.
''But it's very disturbing, very much of concern,'' Martinez said. ``As senators we are held to a higher standard and we should be.''
In a statement Tuesday, Craig denied that he is gay and said he had done nothing wrong.
Ensign told the Associated Press that it would be best for the Republican Party if Craig resigned. He stopped short of demanding that Craig leave office.
Miami Herald staff writer Lesley Clark also contributed to this report.