It's the latest congressional scandal: Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican elected to Congress in the GOP wave of 1994, will resign from the House after an extramarital affair with a part-time staffer.
"I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff," Souder explained in a statement on Tuesday.
Yes, it is an extramarital affair that ends Souder's career in Congress. But how bad is Souder's resignation for the Republican Party? How damaging is this scandal?
Knee-jerk reaction: not very. Souder's scandal will remind everyone of John Ensign's affair with a staffer, which is bad for Republicans. Dave Weigel points out that Souder is an abstinence-only crusader, which the left will find ironic, and which will fit into the Republicans-are-hypocritical-family-values-proselytizers theme we've seen before.
But here's why Rep. Souder's resignation isn't all that bad for his party, compared to recent congressional sex scandals:
1) He's resigning from Congress. Any scandal is worsened by a politician who chooses to stick around. Souder's affair with a part-time staffer is reminiscent of Sen. John Ensign's (R-NV) staffer affair, and Ensign has remained in the Senate, dogged by an FBI investigation over a nearly $100,000 payment he arranged and help he gave go the staffer's husband in finding a job. Souder, it seems, has come out with it and will leave, making a relatively clean break, not a messy, protracted, circus.
Compare that to the days after Eric Massa's scandal broke, before he resigned the following Monday. Souder will officially resign from Congress Friday.
2) Eric Massa. There is no way this looks all that bad compared to the utter charade of questionable statements, snorkeling revelations, live Glenn Beck air time, and sniping at the White House and Democratic leaders that Eric Massa delivered to us in his fantastical whirlwind of egomania. After Massa, the first congressman to resign in relative calm order, basically, gets overshadowed.
3) Republicans will keep his seat. Whether a special election is held, or whether Indiana waits until November to replace him, Souder's third district seat is not competitive. The Cook Political Report rates that district as R+14. There will be no meme about how infidelity has cost Republicans an actual legislative seat.
4) It's clearly not as juicy as other recent scandals. Yes, an affair with a part-time staffer is pretty good. Taxpayers were paying someone that Rep. Souder was having an affair with. But, so far, it lacks the extravagance of David Vitter's prostitution scandal, Larry Craig's wide stance, Mark Sanford's Argentinian disappearance, Eliot Spitzer's affair with the since-ubiquitous Ashlee Dupre, and, yes, Massa's tickle fights. All those scandals have happened in the last few years. Compared to them, Souder's appears less than memorable, at this point.
A few points: we don't know the full story on Souder yet. All we have is the breaking news, so perhaps it's premature to judge impact. Add a dash of blackmail and Souder's Google hits will spike.
Expect Democrats, if given a reasonable opportunity, to ask what House Republican leaders knew and when they knew it, probing for any inkling of a cover up. When Massa's scandal broke, Republicans loudly called for the House ethics committee to investigate Democratic leaders. The committee has since interviewed Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, according to Politico. It's unclear as of yet whether the ethics committee will investigate Souder and his staffer, but it's a safe bet they will.