As top Florida Republicans today prepare to choose a replacement for former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who stepped down Friday after ABC News reported that he had sexually explicit Internet exchanges with a teenager, the shock waves from the growing scandal are beginning to be felt in other House races across the country.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert now says he's "outraged and disgusted" with Foley's actions. Meanwhile, Foley checked into an alcohol rehab center over the weekend.
But the focus is quickly shifting from what Foley did to what House Republican leaders did -- or, more to the point, did not do -- after they learned of another contact Foley had with a former House page still in his teens.
It is a politically-charged issue.
"Voters in an election season have a right to know what the leaders in Congress did," said Rep. Jane Harmon (D-Calif.). "What they knew and when they knew and what they did."
Call for Foley's Censure
In a letter dated Sept. 29 to House Speaker Dennis Hastert obtained by ABC News, Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) called for Hastert to "immediately initiate censure proceedings against Mr. Foley publicly condemning his actions and sending a clear message to the American people that his unspeakable behavior should subject him to the strongest punishment under the law." Fitzpatrick is locked in a tight race for re-election against Democratic Iraq war vet Patrick Murphy.
"I was shocked and outraged by Mark Foley's announcement that he had engaged in improper illicit contact with several members of the House of Representatives Page Program," Fitzpatrick writes. "I am simply disgusted that Mr. Foley would use his office and position as a Member of the United States Congress to create a public perception that he was working to protect abused and exploited children at the same time he was engaging in such abhorrent behavior."
In his letter, Fitzpatrick also called on the House of Representatives to take "immediate action" to strip Foley of "any benefits he might receive as a former Member of Congress."
Lastly, in calling for a criminal investigation of Foley, Rep. Fitzpatrick writes that it is "imperative" that "all such criminal investigations should include any individual who may have had knowledge of this incident, any prior incidents or related incidents and the actions of those individuals may have taken in the light of that knowledge."
Republicans Critical of Leadership
Even some House Republicans were critical of their leaders.
"We should be rushing to get all the facts out," said Rep. Peter King (N.Y.) "Certainly anyone in the Republican leadership, any member of the Congress who knew anything about this should tell exactly what they knew and when they knew it."
"If it were my child or grandchild and I heard it happened, I'd be absolutely furious," said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). "I'm sure the American people are reacting the same way."
For Florida Republicans, the immediate problem is finding a candidate to run for Foley's seat in the election, now just five weeks away. Foley was heavily favored to win reelection.
The 37-member Florida Republican Party Executive Board is set to meet this afternoon in Orlando to do just that. But because the ballots have already been printed, Foley's name cannot be removed.
Even though the votes cast under Foley's name will go to the new candidate, voters may have trouble even nominally supporting the disgraced lawmaker. That factor increases the odds that the Democrats could pick up the seat -- putting them that much closer to their goal of taking over the House.
Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats to regain control of the chamber they lost in 1994.
And Foley's seat isn't the only one this story could put in jeopardy. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is pressing the House Ethics Committee to get the sworn testimony of House Republican leaders about what they knew about Foley's communications with underage former pages.
Hastert Staff Aware of E-Mail Exchange
Hastert's staff has acknowledged that they were told of an e-mail exchange between Foley and a former page. The e-mails, obtained by ABC News, were suggestive but not sexually explicit.
The matter was referred to then-House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, whose office is in charge of the page program, and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), head of the House Page Board, which oversees it, according to a statement from Hastert's office.
Shimkus and Trandahl met with Foley and instructed him to stop communicating with the teenager. But it's not clear whether there was any attempt made to find out if Foley had similar contact with any other former pages.
The growing evidence that Foley was conducting explicit exchanges with others could threaten Hastert and other Republican leaders who now acknowledge they knew about the matter as early as six months ago. They include House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), who is in charge of the effort to elect House Republicans.
"It's a basic management issue," Torie Clarke, a former Republican Party operative, said on "This Week." "Republicans are in charge of the House and this looks like a House out of order."
Political analyst Stu Rothenberg agreed.
"It's another problem the House Republicans have to deal with on top of all the other stuff they've been buried under over the last two years," Rothenberg said. "It's more evidence of confusion among the House Republicans as they point fingers at each other."
And Democrats are doing everything they can to capitalize on it.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) called for a Justice Department investigation.
"The allegations against Congressman Foley are repugnant, but equally as bad is the possibility that Republican leaders in the House of Representatives knew there was a problem and ignored it to preserve a Congressional seat this election year," he said in a written statement.
"It's outrageous," Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Penn.) said on "This Week." "We have an obligation to protect these young pages. ... It really makes me nervous that they might have tried to cover it up."