By MATTHEW DALY
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is finding himself increasingly isolated from his political allies as more Republicans call for him to resign over his arrest in an airport men's room.
A spokesman for Craig denied widespread speculation in Washington that the three-term senator - up for re-election next year - was preparing to quit. Sidney Smith said Wednesday he had heard no such discussion.
Republican Senate leaders pushed Craig from senior committee positions. A White House spokesman expressed disappointment in the 62-year-old lawmaker, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to a charge stemming from an undercover police operation last June in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.
Others in the GOP were more harsh. "Senator Craig pled guilty to a crime involving conduct unbecoming a senator," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. "He should resign."
Coleman, who faces a tough race for re-election next year, also turned over to charity a $2,500 campaign donation he received two months ago from Craig's political action committee.
Craig "represents the Republican Party," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, who called the behavior unacceptable and was the first in a steadily lengthening list of GOP members of Congress calling on Craig to quit.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also urged Craig to step down, as did a handful of Republican House members, including Jeff Miller and Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida, Mark Souder of Indiana, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Ron Lewis of Kentucky.
Lewis, who represents Kentucky's 2nd District, said "there should be no moral relativism applied to elected officials who tarnish public office with private indescretions."
He said that Craig should "do the right thing" for the GOP and for Idaho by resigning.
"Senator Craig's failure to disclose this incident and unwillingness to legally claim his innocence undermine the conservative principles of the Republican Party and should not be tolerated by voters or his congressional colleagues," Lewis said in a statement.
One GOP senator who did not call for Craig to resign - Missouri's Kit Bond - said he was praying for Craig and his family but still called Craig's conduct intolerable.
"It is unacceptable for a member of Congress to be soliciting sex in public restrooms," Bond said.
Craig's spokesman Smith said the GOP lawmakers "have a right to express themselves," but added, "We're not going to get into an argument on that right now."
Craig is cooperating with Senate leaders by stepping aside as the senior Republican on the Veteran Affairs committee and from his position on two subcommittees, Smith said.
Craig said Tuesday he had committed no wrongdoing and shouldn't have pleaded guilty. He said he had only recently retained a lawyer to advise him in the case, which threatens to write an ignominious end to a lifetime in public office.
GOP Senate leaders said they did not act lightly in asking Craig to give up his leadership posts temporarily. But they said their decision was "in the best interest of the Senate until this situation is resolved by the ethics committee."
Meanwhile, Republicans in Craig's home state were uncertain how to react.
Craig, who has represented Idaho in Congress for 27 years, has built deep trust and loyalty across the state and has come to know many of his supporters by name.
His work on the Appropriations Committee has delivered millions of dollars for public works projects, nonprofit organizations, farmers, ranchers and businesses - and the risk of losing all that worried some Republicans.
GOP activists also said they wanted to give Craig time to explain his version of events.
"I think people here still need a little time," said Republican state Sen. Mel Richardson of Idaho Falls. "People want to weigh in their minds how they feel about him and whether they can believe the evidence here."
Gordon Polatis, an insurance agent from Blackfoot and a former state party committee member, said it's not fair to judge just yet considering Craig has discounted the police version of the arrest.
"I'm always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt," Polatis said Wednesday.
Republican Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter called his longtime friend an honorable man, adding: "I am confident that Larry Craig will do what is best for him and his family and the state of Idaho."
For the most part, Democrats studiously avoided involvement with an unfolding Republican scandal.
"We at least ought to hear his side of the story.," said Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said his party stood to gain. "All of these people who (are) holier than thou are now under investigations. ... I think the Republican Party will find itself in a great peril next year," he said.
McCain's call for a resignation was the first among GOP presidential rivals.
Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, also seeking the White House, said Craig's declaration that he had pleaded guilty to make the issue go away "doesn't work in these jobs." Still, he said it was premature to call for Craig to resign.
Hoekstra said Craig's explanations were not credible.
"I think it's important for Republicans to step out right now and say, 'No, this behavior is not going to be tolerated,"' he said. "It's not a judgment on gay rights or anything like that. This is about leadership and setting a standard that the American people and your colleagues in the Republican Party can feel good about."
Craig was arrested on June 11 in a Minneapolis airport men's room after an undercover officer observed conduct that he said was "often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct." He pleaded guilty by mail this month to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.
Associated Press writers Todd Dvorak in Idaho, David Espo, Ken Thomas, Fred Frommer and Sam Hananel in Washington, and Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)