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When Sen. David Vitter (La.) returned from the Big Easy after he ’fessed up to consorting with a prostitute, Republicans at their weekly policy lunch gave him a resounding applause. Not so for sex-scandal-plagued Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho).
As Craig made his way back to the Senate on Tuesday for the first time since his arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting in Minneapolis was revealed, he got to see who among him were his friends, and who were frenemies. Following Vitter’s lead, Craig spoke at the weekly GOP luncheon, apologizing for the distraction and noting that he had the “best legal team around,” according to one Republican Senator.
Still Craig wouldn’t go so far as to say that his return to Capitol Hill meant he would rescind his resignation. “No, not at all. I am here to work with my staff and my office and to work with my leadership,” he said.
Not all Members were willing to extend the olive branch to Craig, but he did find some goodwill among fellow scandal plagued colleagues. Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Ted Stevens (R), who themselves have gotten some unwanted attention recently over ethics issues, greeted Craig. As Craig extended his hand somewhat tentatively to Murkowski, she smiled and said, “Can I give you a hug?” before embracing the Idahoan warmly. And the rather prickly Stevens went so far as to give Craig a playful belly punch as he passed him on the floor.
For the most part, though, Craig had to keep a stiff upper lip as his colleagues dissed him, often leaving him to stand alone, awkwardly, for minutes at a time as his fellow Republicans busied themselves studying the floor, fixing their ties or discussing the minutiae of D.C. voting rights policy.
Still, a number of red-faced Republicans — including an obviously uncomfortable Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Conference Vice Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) — braved the glare of C-SPAN’s ever-watchful cameras to welcome Craig back to the Senate.
Not to be outdone, the folks on the other side of the aisle also showed Craig some love. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was one of the first to greet Craig as he stepped tentatively into the chamber, while Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) went so far as to walk across the chamber to give Craig a supportive handshake. But those displays of collegial support were contrasted by the number of his GOP brothers and sisters who did not approach him, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Thad Cochran (Miss.).
Despite the tepid welcome from his colleagues, Craig is continuing his quest to get his guilty plea overturned. Asked whether he’s optimistic, the jury’s still out. “I have no opinion on it yet. I’d like to be,” he said.