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Top House leaders are sticking by embattled Rep. Scott DesJarlais amid the revelation last week that the pro-life Republican doctor had encouraged a patient he slept with to have an abortion more than a decade ago.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) are maintaining their support for the Tennessee Republican, according to their respective spokesmen.
The two leaders are among DesJarlais’ largest donors, with Boehner’s Freedom Project PAC and Cantor’s Every Republican Is Crucial PAC each donating $10,000 to his campaign this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The support is notable because the Republican Conference has operated under a fairly strict zero-tolerance policy for scandal.
When asked why Cantor maintains his support for DesJarlais, Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said, “He supports every Republican incumbent who is running for office.”
Leadership’s posture comes despite other Republicans distancing themselves from DesJarlais. Most notably, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney removed an endorsement from the Congressman from his website.
The Tennessee Republican Party is maintaining its support for the freshman legislator as well.
“A GOP leadership aide noted that leaders may be less inclined to blacklist DesJarlais because the recorded conversation did not happen while he was in office and because there does not appear to be any violation of Congressional ethics.”
DesJarlais got in hot water last week when the Huffington Post first reported on a partial transcript of a phone call he had 12 years ago with a woman with whom he had an affair.
Culled from divorce records, the transcript showed DesJarlais encouraging the woman to have an abortion. DesJarlais is a physician, and the woman was a patient of his.
The latter point may cause DesJarlais to lose his medical license. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington announced Monday that it has filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health asking that it investigate whether DesJarlais had a sexual relationship with a patient.
DesJarlais has not disputed the phone records, but in a letter to supporters posted on his Facebook page last week, he struck back against the reports that he pressured the woman to have an abortion and that she was his mistress.
“First, there was never any pregnancy and there was no abortion. Second, my ex-wife and I had been separated for quite some time before this incident. There was an agreement in our separation that both she and I could see other people while finalizing the divorce,” he wrote.
He also noted that he suspected the woman had lied about being pregnant and he had “used rather strong rhetoric in hopes that it would lead to her admitting the truth — that there was no pregnancy.”
Nonetheless, a Democratic super PAC has flooded the Tennessee district with a $100,000 ad buy focusing on the scandal in an effort to help state Sen. Eric Stewart (D) unseat the incumbent.
Roll Call still rates the race as Safe Republican.