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International Journalists Weigh Congressional Scandal's Impact on US Elections

Florida Republican Mark Foley had been in the US House of Representatives since 1995, when he abruptly resigned last month, following the disclosure that he had sent sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages to teenaged Congressional pages. Foley had spent much of his congressional career trying to help missing and exploited children. Federal and Florida state officials have launched investigations into Foley's electronic messages to determine if criminal charges will be filed. Foley apologized to his congressional district, announced he is homosexual and said he is undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse.

British journalist Adrian Wooldridge is the Washington bureau chief of The Economist, and co-author of the book The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. He says the timing of the Foley scandal is especially bad for Republicans as American voters assess which candidates to vote for in the upcoming Congressional mid-term elections:

“They've been teetering on the brink of rejecting the Republican Party, because of the failure of the war in Iraq, because of the failure to control spending, because of worries about partisanship, and the rest of it. Now, I think this is the tipping point; it's pushing them over the edge.”

Palestinian-American journalist George Hishmeh is a columnist for the Gulf News of Dubai and the Jordan News, and president of the Washington Association of Arab Journalists. He says the scandal has not received much coverage in the Middle East because of the sensitivity of the subject matter. “This is a big political story in the U-S, and maybe in Europe, but certainly, I don't think in the Arab world they discuss that, says Mr. Hishmeh. “However, they would discuss it from an angle that it is affecting the Bush Administration or the Republican Party, which is in control of both the Senate and the U-S House of Representatives. And how it might impact the upcoming election next month.

French journalist Philippe Gelie, the Washington bureau chief of Le Figaro, says initially his editors in Paris were unimpressed by the Foley matter: “At the start of the scandal, I honestly thought that I couldn't sell this to my editors. I mean it was a complicated story, until it took some political dimension, and involved really the Republican leadership.”

The Washington Times, a conservative newspaper, called on Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to resign because of what the publication called his negligence regarding the scandal, by failing to heed warnings about Foley's inappropriate behavior with pages. For his part, Hastert defended his staff's handling of the matter and said anyone on Capitol Hill who covered up Foley's behavior should resign.

Another problem for Republicans is the perception among voters that they are more traditional than Democrats, according to Wooldridge. “There is an element of hypocrisy here, and very few people like hypocrisy,” says Woolbridge. “The Republicans have persistently claimed to be the party of family values; they've tried to do things such as pass a constitutional amendment making marriage an act between only a man and a woman, outlawing homosexual marriage. And now, it looks at least to the general public as though they've been protecting somebody who was preying upon pages, I mean underage or late adolescent boys in the care of Congress. So, this is exactly the last thing the party of family values wants.”

But Philippe Gelie of Le Figaro questions whether the scandal is as important in the heartland of the United States: “I think there is also a media excitement and almost a witch-hunt on this story. I mean I was last week in Texas to cover the governor's race; there was this debate on Friday night. Two things were not mentioned during this debate. One was Iraq; the other one was the Foley affair.”

The entire fallout regarding the Foley scandal will likely not emerge until the November elections. Many Democratic candidates are hoping to exploit the issue to their advantage by stressing that House leaders may have known about Foley's inappropriate behavior and sought to cover it up for political reasons. Whatever the electoral impact, there can be no doubt that members of Congress and other officials will increasingly be held accountable for their dealings with young staff members and the way in which future such complaints are dealt with. A bipartisan House ethics subcommittee has recently launched a wide-ranging impartial investigation into Congress's handling of the Foley scandal. Its leaders say they plan to complete the inquiry in a matter of weeks, but not necessarily before the November 7th congressional elections