Majority Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are scrambling to contain the fallout from a scandal involving one of their own, Congressman Mark Foley of Florida, who resigned abruptly last week when it was revealed he sent sexually explicit emails to young boys. Democrats are hoping to politically benefit from the matter, which comes just five weeks before crucial midterm elections.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert says House Republican leaders did not know about the lurid emails sent by Congressman Foley to teenage male interns working at the Capitol until they surfaced in news reports on Friday.
"Congressman Foley resigned, and I am glad he did," he said. "If he had not, I would have demanded his expulsion from the House of Representatives.
Hastert's comments come in response to Democrats, who allege that House leaders may have known about Foley's inappropriate behavior and sought to cover it up for political reasons.
In a written statement, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Republican leaders admitted knowing about Foley's "abhorrent behavior" at least six months earlier and failed to protect the children in their trust. She says Republican leaders must be investigated by the Ethics Committee and immediately questioned under oath.
In an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press program Sunday, Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown of Ohio said any Republican leader who knew about the matter and did not report it should leave office.
"I think anyone who knew about this, any leader who knew about this should resign, absolutely," he said.
The scandal comes just five weeks before midterm elections that will determine control of Congress.
While Democrats try to make political hay out of the scandal, at the White House, spokesman Tony Snow sought to play down its impact on the November 7 elections.
"Mark Foley has got to answer for his behavior, right? Now, this does not affect every Republican in the United States of America," said Snow.
Foley is under federal investigation. He has entered an alcoholism treatment center, and issued a statement expressing regret and accepting responsibility for the harm he has caused.
Foley, a six-term Congressman who was expected to win reelection against his Democratic challenger, had served as co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, and recently introduced legislation to crack down on internet pornography sites.