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Facing a firestorm of criticism in the unfolding House page scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), House Republican leaders held a tense Members-only conference call Monday evening to attempt to assuage lawmakers’ anger about a controversy that some Republicans fear has put the majority increasingly in peril.
Sources familiar with the call described Members as “angry” and “furious,” and said many lawmakers raised safety concerns about the teenagers currently enrolled in the page program.
“It’s big, it’s devastating, it’s goes back to the idea that Washington, [D.C.,] is an immoral city,” said one source familiar with the call.
Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), the sources said, went so far as to call for scrapping the House page program, which has been in place for more than 150 years. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) also called for the House to hold hearings on the matter, but that suggestion was not widely supported.
Unconfirmed rumors continue to swirl around Foley, who has checked into a rehabilitation facility for alcohol abuse.
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), mindful of press leaks, warned Members on the call not to discuss unconfirmed allegations on the conference call, but rather to contact leadership offices directly with those concerns.
The conference call came as Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and his aides wrestled with pressure that is perhaps unprecedented in his tenure, as divisions revealed themselves in leadership over the weekend.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) stated publicly that he discussed the series of non-sexual e-mail exchanges in 2005 between Foley and a 16-year-old male former page from Louisiana with the Speaker earlier this year.
Hastert does not deny the conversation took place but maintains he does not recall it, and the different accounts from the two leaders was widely noted.
“The atmosphere was foul over the weekend,” said a GOP strategist close to the leadership. “People were pissed. I think the Speaker heard that and came back pretty quickly to the Capitol. The problem is that the rumor was the leadership was at each other’s throats. ... The biggest problem was that they didn’t all get their stories straight. Now they’re all getting their stories straight, which is important.”
Reynolds was not on the conference call Monday with the rest of the leadership team, though he was scheduled to have a press conference Monday night in Buffalo, N.Y., to reiterate the statement he made over the weekend about his knowledge of the Foley affair.
Leaders are furiously working to separate themselves from a series of sexually explicit online communications between Foley and an unknown number of former House pages, which were first publicly revealed last week.
Sources on Monday’s conference call said Members supported the leaders’ position that there was no prior knowledge of any inappropriate contact between Foley and minors.
Senior members of Hastert’s staff, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a co-chair of the House Page Board, and then-Clerk of the House Jeff Trandahl led a quiet inquiry into a 2005 e-mail exchange between Foley and the Louisiana page that was dubbed only as “over-friendly” but did result in Foley being advised to end communication with the boy at the request of his parents.