House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert on Thursday tried and may well have slowed down the waves of criticism being hurled at him personally in the wake of the Mark Foley cyberspace sex scandal.
Hastert, a Plano Republican, confidently said the scandal will not cost him his job -- not now and not later.
In front of his Batavia office, looking the best on television he has in a week, Hastert took responsibility for the mess and declared formally that he will stand for another term as speaker if the GOP retains the House in November and assuming he is re-elected.
By being crystal-clear about his intention to remain speaker, Hastert makes it harder for a would-be challenger to make any overt moves.
President Bush gave Hastert his second show of support. Remember how Bush let former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott twist when he was in trouble? Not so with Hastert.
Bush called Hastert on Thursday evening. A White House spokesman said Bush thanked Hastert "for making a clear public statement today taking responsibility and saying that the House leadership is accountable to the American people.''
• • Hastert was dramatically contrite. For the first time, he issued an explicit apology, and that helps turn a corner.
Said Hastert, "I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. And the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility because ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.''
• • Hastert's plan to tap Louis Freeh was sidetracked. Hastert wanted the former FBI chief to take an in-depth look at the page system. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not think it was needed -- the problem was a member, not the kids. But if Hastert insisted, Pelosi wants a specialist in child exploitation in charge.
• • With investions of Foley, a Florida Republican, up and running at the Justice Department, in Florida and in the House, some of the heat -- and attention -- is deflected from Hastert.
The bipartisan House Ethics Committee -- mostly dormant for more than a year -- launched its own probe Thursday. Instead of a constant spotlight on Hastert, stories of who received some of the four dozen subpoenas will be in the news.
• • Some background on Hastert's animus toward the media in general and in particular ABC News, which broke the Foley story: It's not new. Last May, ABC News reported that Hastert was being investigated as part of a broader probe of convicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Justice Department denied Hastert was being investigated. Hastert's lawyers threatened legal action against ABC. ABC stood by the story.