Republican U.S. Senator Larry Craig announced that he was resigning following his arrest for allegedly soliciting sex with an undercover policeman in an airport bathroom.
"It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30," Craig said at a news conference in Boise, the state capital of western state of Idaho.
Craig was arrested June 11 in a men's bathroom at Minneapolis-St Paul airport by an undercover policeman investigating complaints of lewd conduct. The officer said Craig solicited him for gay sex.
According to a police report, Craig entered a toilet stall next to an undercover policeman and tapped his foot and waved his hand in gestures that the officer said signaled "a desire to engage in sexual conduct."
He pleaded guilty on August 8 to a misdemeanor misconduct charge, paid a 575 dollar fine and was sentenced to one year probation. Craig later said the guilty plea was a mistake, and that he did nothing wrong.
"I am not gay. I never have been gay," he told reporters Tuesday, adding that he accepted the misconduct charge "in the hopes of making it go away."
An ardent opponent of gay marriage and an outspoken critic of sexual improprieties by other politicians, Craig, 62, said was "deeply sorry," addressing his apology to the people of Idaho and to his own family.
Flanked by his wife, two of his children and the state governor, Craig said he would resign to remove an "unwanted and unfair distraction" from the Senate after representing the western state of Idaho for 27 years on Capitol Hill.
"These are serious times of war and of conflict, times that deserve the Senate's and the full nation's attention," he said.
The announcement Saturday was encouraged by national Republican leaders, worried that the scandal would taint all candidates belonging to the socially conservative party in the 2008 election cycle.
Idaho's Republican Governor Butch Otter did not say who he plans to appoint to complete Craig's senatorial term, which ends in January 2009. The seat will be up for grabs in the November 2008 elections.
Craig's departure does not change the balance of power in the Senate, where Democrats currently hold a narrow 51-49 majority over Republicans.
String of scandals
Revelations about the Idaho senator's arrest was more bad news for the Republicans, plagued by a series of scandals.
In 2004, veteran Republican congressman Ed Schrock, who was married and had one child, declined to seek reelection after tapes surfaced allegedly showing him soliciting sex on a telephone service used by homosexual men to arrange meetings.
In September 2006, representative Mark Foley, long a vocal advocate against child abuse, resigned after evidence surfaced of a long history of soliciting teenage boys working as aides in the Congress.
Other recent scandals include Louisiana Senator David Vitter's phone number appearing the black book of an escort service allegedly masquerading as a prostitution business, and Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska being investigated for possible corruption.
"The fast reaction by the Republican leadership tells me they know they are vulnerable," said Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.
"First Mark Foley with the pages, then Senator Vitter with the call girls, then Senator Craig with the men's restroom. This would be hard for any party to take in Congress. But especially a party that's paraded its leadership on family values for so long," said Durbin.
The White House supported Craig's decision to resign.
"Senator Craig made the right decision for himself, his family, his constituents and the U.S. senate," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told AFP.
President George W. Bush called Craig to say "he knew it was a difficult decision for him to make and he wished him well," Stanzel said.
Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, who had called for an ethics investigation in the case, said Craig "made a difficult decision, but the right one."
Craig served 10 years in the House of Representatives and some 17 years in the Senate.