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The House Page Board’s top Democrat blasted Republican leaders for failing to provide for the well-being of the program’s teenage students and instead “finding political cover for themselves” after Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and the panel’s GOP leader announced new administrative changes to the program Monday afternoon.
In response to reports of disgraced ex-Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) inappropriate instant message conversations with at least one former underage page late last week, Hastert asked Clerk of the House Karen Haas to create a 1-800 number that would allow current and former pages along with family members and “anyone who has a concern about improper contact” to report such incidents.
On Monday, Hastert and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairman of the three-person page board, held an afternoon press conference to discuss how they planned to maintain the integrity of the program and ensure that similar incidents never happen again.
“We obviously need to do more, including providing assistance to these kids after they return home,” Hastert said. “Moms and dads all across America know what a challenge it is to monitor communication in this new world of instant communications and cyberspace. It’s our challenge as well.”
But Democratic Rep. Dale Kildee (Mich.), who along with Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) serves on the page board, said he was kept out of any decisions made since last week.
“In my 21 years as a Member of the House Page Board, every decision has been made on not just a bi-partisan basis but on a non-partisan basis, with our main concern always being the safety and well-being of the young teenagers who serve the U.S. House as pages,” Kildee said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “I was outraged to learn that the House Republican leadership kept to itself the knowledge of Mr. Foley’s despicable behavior toward the House Pages. I am now equally outraged to learn that Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced today that there will be changes in the policies of the House Page program. Once again, I was not informed of the meeting today, nor was I consulted in any way about any proposed changes.”
Kildee blamed the House Republican leadership for “following the same pattern of unilateral decision-making that caused this problem in the first place in the Mark Foley issue.”
For her part, Capito said in a press release Monday that she first learned of Foley’s inappropriate e-mails last Thursday from press reports.
“While I deeply regret not being made aware of this situation as a member of the Page Board, right now my focus remains on the work ahead to ensure the young people in the Page Program have a safe environment to live and learn during their time here,” Capito said in a statement on Monday. “Mark Foley’s disgraceful lies and repulsive behavior have stained this institution, but we must not let it harm the future of this great program for our nation’s young people. ... I anticipate working with the Page Board to strengthen the Page Program by taking whatever steps are necessary to protect our pages and ensure they feel as safe during their time with us as they do in their own homes.”