Washington is abuzz with rumors of late-night partying and of House Republicans inappropriately hanging out with female lobbyists.
But not everyone was taken by surprise. Minority Leader John Boehner has been working behind the scenes to address the issue for at least the past year and a half.
The Ohio Republican has had private conversations with several lawmakers asking them to curb their inappropriate behavior. Boehner told the lawmakers that it was a distraction from the partys goal of taking back the House, according to several sources familiar with the one-on-one talks.
Despite Boehners effort to head off a scandal, the issue came to the forefront last week when a conversation that Rep. Lee Terry had with a woman at a GOP watering hole became public.
Why did you get me so drunk? the Nebraska Republican asked a woman sitting next to him at the Capitol Hill Club during President Barack Obamas June 15 speech about the Gulf Coast oil spill, according to a source who overheard the conversation.
The New York Post first reported the comment, though Roll Calls source said it wasnt intended to be flirtatious, as the Post reported, and Terry has denied it altogether.
This attack on my character and my familys reputation is obviously politically motivated and out of line, Terry said in a statement. The people of Nebraska know me and know that I would never hurt my family in such a way as depicted in the article.
Terry likely faces a competitive re-election race against Democratic state Sen. Tom White.
Boehner first told Roll Call of his conversations with House Republicans in late May after he asked former Rep. Mark Souder to resign after the Indiana Republican had an extramarital affair with a staff member.
Boehner said he had spoken to several Members over the past year and a half who, he believed, had done something or came close to doing something unethical.
Ive had Members in here where I thought they crossed the line, Boehner said at the time, mentioning former GOP Reps. John Doolittle (Calif.) and Rick Renzi (Ariz.). I have had others I thought were approaching the line.
Doolittle and Renzi stepped aside from their committee positions in 2007 after each of them came under federal investigation for unrelated incidents. Renzi faces corruption charges in federal court in Arizona; Doolittle has not been charged.
After a series of GOP ethical scandals in the 109th Congress helped catapult Democrats into the majority, Boehner said he pledged to his depleted Conference that he would not tolerate Members who flouted the rules or the law.
I say what I mean. I mean what I say. I do what I say Im going to do, Boehner said. Im the most transparent person in this town. And Ive done exactly what I promised my Members.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel declined to comment on the specifics of Boehners intervention with individual Members.
We arent going to comment on rumors, and any conversations Boehner may or may not have had with other Members are private, he said in an e-mail.
Several Republican lobbyists said the Terry incident is part of a larger concern involving a group of House Republicans and lobbyists, including Glenn LeMunyon of the LeMunyon Group, who regularly party with female lobbyists.
On the Hill, theres a lot of older men that just go home when theyre done with votes, said the longtime Capitol Hill Club member who overheard Terrys remark. Then you have a smaller group that likes to knock back a few and have a good time.
Among them are GOP Reps. Bill Shuster (Pa.), Sam Graves (Mo.), Chris Lee (N.Y.) and Duncan Hunter (Calif.), several sources have confirmed. None of the Members have been accused of any improprieties.
LeMunyon, a former appropriations staffer for then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) before the lawmakers rise to Majority Whip, regularly hosts Members at his Capitol Hill townhouse for fundraisers and after-hours parties, according to multiple sources. LeMunyon declined to comment, saying, No, its just all false.
Even though leadership has taken notice, the source said, its far from a Mark Foley, weve-got-problems situation.
You also have to realize that Boehner ... he knows these guys. Hes hung out with these guys. He knows the situation enough to know its more of an appearance thing, the source said. Hes saying more, Hey, lets not let the appearances lead to a worse situation whereby it gets out of hand and we have a scandal on our hands.
The outing of Terry at the private Capitol Hill Club set off speculation that the venues unspoken off the record rule should be formalized to require IDs when entering the club.
However, several lobbyists said it would be almost impossible to police who comes into the club, particularly now that the club allows personal credit cards to be used to allow nonmembers staffers to pay their own tabs.
Capitol Hill Club general manager Stan Lawson and club President Ray McGrath of Downey McGrath Group Inc. did not return calls seeking comment.