- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

CHICAGO — President Bush yesterday stood shoulder to shoulder with embattled House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and predicted that the Illinoisan will return after Election Day as the head of a Republican-controlled House.

Appearing with Mr. Hastert for the first time since Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, abruptly resigned over sexually explicit messages he sent to teenage male pages, the president praised the speaker as a man of integrity. But Mr. Bush steered clear of the scandal that has hurt Republicans nationwide and left the speaker fighting for his political life.

“I am proud to be standing with the current speaker of the House, who is going to be the future speaker of the House,” Mr. Bush said to whoops and cheers from Republican supporters.

“This man has a long record of accomplishment. You know, he’s not one of these Washington politicians who spews a lot of hot air. He just gets the job done. … He has delivered results for the people. This country is better off with … Denny Hastert as the speaker, and it will be better off when he’s the speaker the next legislative session,” the president said.

Although the president did not call Mr. Hastert for several days after the Foley scandal broke, he traveled to Chicago yesterday to attend fundraisers for several local candidates and spent several minutes on stage posing with Mr. Hastert.

Mr. Bush has begun publicly backing Mr. Hastert, who appears to have withstood demands that he step down from his post for failing to police his own ranks. The president Wednesday called Mr. Hastert “very credible” and last week said he was a “father, teacher and coach who cares about the children of this country.”

The campaign event yesterday was for U.S. House candidates David McSweeney and Peter Roskam, each of whom said he supports Mr. Hastert as speaker. Mr. McSweeney is trying to unseat a freshman Democrat, and Mr. Roskam hopes to succeed retiring Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican.

Mr. McSweeney said he supports Mr. Hastert but wants the several investigations under way completed swiftly.

“I believe that what we need to see is have a full and thorough investigation, see the [House] ethics committee investigation completed, the Justice Department investigation completed. I think Speaker Hastert is a man of integrity, and what I believe is we need to complete this investigation and get all the facts,” Mr. McSweeney said.

Democrats continued their assault on the speaker. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, trying to use the Bush-Hastert appearance to raise money for Democratic candidates, called it “a meeting of the no-accountability caucus of the Republican Party.”

“Denny Hastert has been the longest-running Republican speaker in history,” Mr. Kerry wrote in an e-mail to supporters. “But in 25 days, we can take the gavel out of his hands — and the smirk off George W. Bush’s face.”

Mr. Hastert has insisted that he was unaware that the congressman from Florida was sending sexually explicit messages until Mr. Foley resigned two weeks ago. With less than a month to the election, the White House is doing its best to support the speaker. Press secretary Tony Snow is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser with Mr. Hastert tomorrow.

Mr. Hastert, who looked tired, made no comments at yesterday’s event. Instead, he simply introduced Mr. Bush to the partisan crowd.

He was slow to get a handle on the scandal, as other Republican leaders sought to distance themselves from the embattled speaker. But two weeks of bad headlines have not hurt Mr. Hastert, 64, who has served 20 years in Congress and six years before that in the Illinois House. He is expected to win handily in his district, where he won two years ago with almost 70 percent of the vote.

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