Larry Craig announced Saturday that he will resign from the Senate, effective Sept. 30. The announcement came five days after he was outed for allegedly soliciting sex in an airport men's room. Why is he waiting almost a month before officially stepping down?
Probably to give the Idaho governor time to vet and appoint his successor. He'll also try to finish up some business—his Senate Web site says his office will use the extra time to wrap up unresolved complaints from constituents about passports, Social Security, and pensions. Craig might also want to help make sure his staffers can find other jobs. (Addendum, Sept. 5: Craig now says he will use the time to reconsider his resignation.)
Craig's monthlong delay will help out Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and the Republicans, who can use the extra time to ensure that Craig's replacement (possibly Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch) is solid and not controversial, with a scandal-free background—someone who could be elected easily when the term is up. If Craig stepped down sooner, they might rush into appointing a less-than-desirable candidate who could make the 2008 Senate race in Idaho competitive. Craig might also want to make sure that he doesn't leave his office vacant when he steps down, particularly in case an important Senate vote pops up between now and the end of the month. If he resigned immediately, Idahoans—and Republicans—would be down one Senate vote until the successor took office.
Some news outlets speculated that Craig was waiting for "pension-related reasons," but that's unlikely to be the case. Craig, who is 62 years old and has served as a member of Congress since 1981, is already eligible. His guilty plea to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct won't cost him any of his pension, either. Though legislators have talked about withdrawing pensions for members of Congress found guilty of crimes (Duke Cunningham is an often-cited example), it hasn't happened yet. The National Taxpayers Union estimates that Craig's pension will net him $98,000 a year.
A politician who resigns because of a scandal or for personal reasons often makes it effective immediately. Former Rep. Mark Foley resigned right after ABC News questioned him about sending sexually explicit communications with pages. But Craig's approach isn't entirely without precedent: Bob Packwood, who faced the threat of expulsion from the Senate after an uproar about allegations of sexual harassment, resigned on Sept. 7, 1995, effective at the end of the month.
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Explainer thanks Gary Jacobson of the University of California at San Diego, Betty Koed of the Senate Historical Office, John Lapinskiof the University of Pennsylvania, and Stephen Roberds of Adams State College.