Hunkered down in Idaho, Craig's missed 26 Senate votes

U.S. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) addresses members of the news media.
U.S. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) addresses members of the news media. Joe Jaszewski/Idaho Statesman

WASHINGTON — Since Congress returned Sept. 4 from a monthlong break, Sen. Larry Craig has missed dozens of votes while he's been in Idaho working to undo the legal ramifications of getting caught up in a sex sting at the Minneapolis airport.

The Republican senator was at home in Idaho on the summer congressional recess when the news broke Aug. 27 of his arrest and guilty plea.

Since then, he hasn't returned to Washington. And from Sept. 4 through Wednesday, when Congress broke for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, Craig missed all 26 of the Senate's votes, which included judicial nominees and a spending bill for military construction and veterans' affairs.

Craig's spokesman said the three-term senator thought that his presence in Washington would be disruptive right now, in part because of the media attention it would draw. The senator said as much Sept. 1 when he announced his intention to resign at the end of the month, spokesman Dan Whiting said.

"There are two priorities on Senator Craig's mind right now," Whiting said. "One is clearing his name. Two is doing what's best for Idaho. He would love to be here working. It's what he's done for 27 years. He'll come back at a time when his presence won't be a total distraction to Senate business."

Craig's colleagues have said they'll pick up the slack in his absence while he addresses his personal issues, and that they'll work to help his office make the transition to a new senator when the time comes.

Some of that occurred Wednesday, when the Senate passed the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill, packed with projects for Idaho.

Idaho's junior senator, Michael Crapo, issued a news release that was careful to point out that many of the projects in the bill were jointly secured by Idaho's senators. And even while touting the Idaho earmarks, Crapo said he and his Idaho counterparts in the House of Representatives would "continue to advocate for Idaho's priorities."

No matter what they do, his colleagues can't vote for Craig, who wasn't in Washington himself to vote Wednesday on projects he'd wanted in the spending bill, such as a $450,000 preservation grant for the historic town of Chesterfield.

For such reasons, Craig's absence has drawn criticism from some of his constituents in Idaho.

"If he's not in Washington, we're not being represented," said Jeri Tortorello, 56, a paralegal from Pollock, Idaho. "We have crucial votes coming up, and we should have two votes. I think he should have resigned immediately and saved the people of Idaho the embarrassment."