WASHINGTON House Speaker Dennis Hastert brushed aside resignation talk today, even as the Republicans' No. 2 House leader contradicted him in the page scandal. President Bush gave Hastert a vote of confidence as the party struggled to contain pre-election fallout.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said he wouldn't resign as speaker, the top official in Congress and second in the line of succession to the presidency, in the controversy over Rep. Mark Foley's salacious computer exchanges with former pages. Foley resigned last Friday.
''I'm not going to do that,'' Hastert said when asked by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh whether he would resign.
Hastert sought to blame Democrats for leaking sexually explicit computer instant messages between Foley and former pages from 2003.
''We have a story to tell, and the Democrats have in my view have put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story. They're trying to put us on defense,'' Hastert said.
''It's absolutely not true,'' said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at an event in Sunrise, Florida. Pelosi said it was too early to call for Hastert's resignation pending an Ethics Committee investigation.
ABC News, which first reported the exchanges, says they were provided to it by former pages. It said its initial report last Thursday about e-mails between Foley and a Louisiana teenager prompted other former pages to come forward with more sexually graphic electronic messages.
ABC News said Tuesday it had obtained additional instant messages.
''Can I have a good kiss goodnight,'' Foley was said to have messaged in one. A boy responded with cyber symbols and ''kiss.''
In another message, Foley invited the teenager to his Capitol Hill town house ''for a few drinks'' even though he knew the boy was under the legal drinking age. ''we may need to drink at my house so we dont get busted,'' Foley messaged.
Hastert told reporters yesterday that he was not aware of the complaint against Foley until last Friday. He acknowledged his staff was made aware of it last fall, but he said there was ''no reason to bump it up to me at that time.''
However, both Majority Leader John Boehner and New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, who heads the House Republicans' re-election campaign, said they had spoken with Hastert about a complaint concerning a former page from Louisiana last spring after being hold about it by Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who had sponsored the teen.
''I believe I talked to the speaker and he told me it had been taken care of,'' Boehner said in an interview today on radio station WLW in Cincinnati. ''My position is it's in his corner, it's his responsibility.''
Reynolds insisted several times in a Monday night news conference in his Buffalo-area district that ''I took it to the speaker'' this spring when Alexander also mentioned the inappropriate e-mail to him.
Foley, R-Fla., resigned abruptly on Friday after being confronted with the 2003 instant message exchanges. He has since checked into an alcohol rehabilitation program at an undisclosed location.
His departure left behind a trail of questions concerning the e-mails and instant messages he had sent pages over an extended period of time. Beyond the details of his actions, Republican leaders fear the impact on the Nov. 7 elections, and the possible loss of their House majority.
Bush weighed in for the first time today. Speaking at a Stockton, Calif., elementary school, he said he was disgusted by the Foley revelations and voiced support for Hastert.
''I know that he wants all the facts to come out,'' the president said.
Meanwhile, The Washington Times, a newspaper with a consistently conservative editorial page, called for Hastert's resignation today, saying he was either grossly negligent ''or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away.''
Conservative activist Richard A. Viguerie kept up the drumbeat from the right, calling for Hastert to step down. ''The fact that they just walked away from this, it sounds like they were trying to protect one of their own members rather than these young boys,'' Viguerie said on Fox News' ''Studio B.''
But the Christian Coalition weighed in with a letter saying the organization ''stands behind'' Hastert.
The Arlington Group, a coalition of 70 conservative groups, said, ''We are very concerned that the whole truth concerning this episode be reported, including when House leadership or other members from either party knew of this situation.''
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