Spotlight Fades For Larry Craig

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, takes part in a Senate Environment and Public Works hearing in Washington Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook) AP

This story was written by Amie Parnes.

There was a time when you couldn't find Sen. Larry Craig anywhere - except on television and on the front pages of newspapers.

He was noticeably missing from the lectern on the Senate floor. His chair was empty during committee hearings. 

His name was followed by dead silence during the Senate roll call.

And when the Idaho Republican did surface at policy lunches or outside his Senate office building, he appeared as almost a ghostlike figure who disappeared again in seconds.

But in a society obsessed with celebrity and 15 seconds of notoriety, things change, and change quickly.

And today, Larry Craig is everywhere. You can't miss him.

Five months after reports emerged that he was arrested for lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport bathroom and his 27-year congressional résumé was forever damaged, Craig has resumed his life in the Senate as if none of it ever happened.

Gone are the days of the wall-to-wall news coverage that centered around him, the late-night jokes about bathroom stalls and his infamous "wide stance," the talk about his sexual orientation and whether his own party leaders would allow him to be effective as a senator.

Photographers no longer chase him down the halls.

"I came back and resumed a normal schedule," Craig said in an interview on Wednesday.

"My colleagues have welcomed me back, and I feel very grateful.

"There was limited resistance," he added. "My colleagues are letting me work through these problems as I go on to serve the people of Idaho. They're not denying me that opportunity or that responsibility."

Craig now walks through the doors of the Senate chambers seemingly unfazed. 

Since vowing to finish the remainder of his term, he has been a frequent presence on the floor, debating farming issues, arguing against the alternative minimum tax and pushing for wind development as part of a larger energy package.

On the day former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott retired last month, Craig was anything but shy, recounting memories of the now-defunct Singing Senators, the vocal group of which he and Lott were members.

Last week, at an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, Craig walked into a jam-packed room, took his seat and almost immediately chimed in on mining reform, even as some lobbyists in the crowd snickered, "There he is, Mr. Tap Tap."

And just this week, after the State of the Union address, there he was again in Statuary Hall, this time before the television cameras that once haunted him, dissecting President Bush's speech.

Craig hears the comments when they do come. But he never seems to flinch, even as heads turn and fingers point. He's used to it, he said.

Craig is the first to admit that there was some awkwardness upon his return, including "lack of eye contact" and whispering from some of his colleagues.

But, for the most part, he said, "I think my colleagues are giving me the benefit of the doubt that I have given my colleagues."

"They're reciprocating."

Craig said the transition has been easier because his colleagues appreciate "my level of expertise and continue to rely on me for my knowledge."

Craig said that recently, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, asked Craig to cover for him when Inhofe was unable to sit in on a hearing.

Craig said he has received support from lawmakers on the other side of the aisle, too.

On the heels of the scandal, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) approached him to work on a specialty crops amendment in the Farm Bill, Craig said.

"And we continue to work together today."

Sen. Mike Crapo, the junior senator from Idaho, said Craig "continues to fully represent the people of Idaho.

"He has been an effective leader, and I appreciate his guidance to the Idaho delegation," Crapo said in a statement.

"His long years of experience in public lands, natural resources and energy issues has been beneficial to me and my colleagues."

Political observers say Craig has been able to move on because of public indifference, mostly.

"It turns out it just wasn't that big of a deal," said George Gonzalez, a political science professor at the University of Miami.

"The public knows everyone has their personal foibles. It was a private matter, and I think they respect that."

Still, Craig describes the past few months as "difficult."

"There isn't any human being that would want to go through what I've been through," he said.

But he added, "There's a divided line and a sense of responsibility. I told the citizens of Idaho that I could return and be effective for them. I'm here to serve Idaho. I've never looked beyond that."
By Amie Parnes
  • David Miller

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