Sat, Oct 14, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Bush campaigns for Hastert


US President George W. Bush stood shoulder-to-shoulder with embattled House Speaker Dennis Hastert, offering a powerful boost in his moment of need and declaring the country "better off" with Hastert in power.

Less than four weeks before the Nov. 7 elections in which Republicans are at risk of losing control of Congress, Bush campaigned for Hastert, who has faced calls to step down after the disclosure of lurid e-mails sent by a former Republican lawmaker to teenage congressional assistants.

Hastert's critics -- including Democrats and some Republicans -- contend he did not do enough to protect the teens who were sent the explicit messages by former representative Mark Foley.

Hastert has said the matter could have been handled better but that he did not do anything wrong and has rejected calls he step down as speaker.

Some Republican congressional candidates have canceled appearances with Hastert, but Bush, sharing the stage with the speaker for the first time since the Foley scandal broke last month, praised him as an effective leader for the party.

"You know he's not one of these Washington politicians who spews a lot of hot air. He just gets the job done," Bush said after Hastert introduced him at a fund-raiser for congressional candidates in the speaker's home state of Illinois.

"I am proud to be standing with the current speaker of the House who is going to be the future speaker of the House," Bush said.

Although the president has spoken out in Hastert's defense -- tepidly at first and more directly at a White House news conference on the eve of the fundraiser -- their appearance together was an endorsement of Hastert when nearly half the US says he should resign.

The Foley scandal has added to the woes of congressional Republicans already battling the fallout from the influence-peddling scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Democrats must pick up 15 House seats and six Senate seats to reclaim control of Congress. Several polls show Democrats with a big edge over Republicans.

The fundraiser came on the same day that the House Ethics Committee questioned a former aide to Foley, Kirk Fordham, behind closed doors in Washington.

A former Foley chief of staff, Fordham has told news media he informed Hastert's staff about the Florida congressman's troublesome behavior toward teenage boys three years ago.

Hastert chief of staff Scott Palmer has denied it.

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