State GOP leaders may urge ‘kissing congressman’ to resign

Embattled U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister faced flagging support Wednesday within his own political party, as the “kissing congressman” video scandal commanded national attention for a third day and caused growing consternation among state Republican leaders.

The Louisiana GOP’s Executive Committee planned a telephone conference for Thursday to address the controversy, and one official said the party would likely call for McAllister’s resignation.

McAllister, a Republican who upset the establishment-backed candidate in a special election last year, has resisted calls to step down since surveillance footage surfaced Monday of him kissing a married staffer inside his district office in Monroe.

Calling for his resignation “is definitely under discussion,” said Dan Kyle, treasurer of the Republican Party of Louisiana.

The party’s executive director, Jason Doré, said party Chairman Roger Villere Jr. had been trying to reach McAllister, who has remained out of public view and failed to cast votes in the House for several days. Villere has been taking a telephone survey to gauge party sentiment, Kyle said.

Several Republican congressmen fell silent Wednesday when asked for comment on McAllister and his stature in the party.

By contrast, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, came to McAllister’s defense, saying the freshman representative still has “great potential” as an elected official.

“He was willing to work across the aisle and became pretty popular very quickly just from not being a politician, from being a regular person who happened to be here,” Richmond said. “I hope he and his family get through this.”

McAllister, who campaigned as a family man and devout Christian, has faced a firestorm of criticism since The Ouachita Citizen newspaper in West Monroe published a video online Monday that showed McAllister passionately kissing Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock, a 33-year-old aide who is the wife of a longtime friend and former colleague. The newspaper’s publisher, Sam Hanna Jr., said the video had been dropped off anonymously at his office about two weeks ago.

McAllister, R-Swartz, has shown no intention of stepping down despite charges of hypocrisy and expressions of disappointment among constituents.

The reaction among state party leaders is in many ways unsurprising, given his unlikely path to victory in the fall — a special election for Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District seat in which he trounced state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, the state GOP’s chosen candidate to succeed former U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander.

McAllister has continued to ruffle other Republicans’ feathers in his brief tenure, in large part through his outspoken support for the state’s expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act.

After the video emerged, McAllister considered asking the FBI to open an inquiry into the video recording, which staffers characterized as a security breach of a federal office, but he abandoned that idea Wednesday, at least for the time being. McAllister’s staff did not specify which federal laws might have been broken by the video’s dissemination, though it was not clear whether the person who obtained the footage had the authority to be in the office.

“Congressman McAllister is focused on earning back the trust of those he has disappointed, and he reiterates his request for privacy for his family during this difficult period,” Jennifer Dunagin, McAllister’s communications director, said in a statement.

Dunagin said earlier in the day that the leak “is something that warrants an investigation, but how we go about doing that is yet to be determined.”

Political scientists said McAllister has far more to lose than to gain by pursuing a criminal inquiry, which inevitably would generate even more headlines, regardless of its outcome. The scandal already has changed McAllister’s re-election prospects entirely and invited new challengers for the November election, said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“I think it’s a smart play,” Cross said of McAllister’s apparent decision to eschew a criminal probe. Demanding an investigation, Cross added, “would indicate he’s vindictive and wants to get the person who got him. If you want to make this go away, drop the investigation.”

There was lingering speculation that the video might also spark a congressional ethics investigation based on a House rule that requires members to “conduct themselves at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House.” But experts said an ethics probe appeared to be highly unlikely and among the least of McAllister’s concerns in an election year.

“At the end of the day, you cannot be removed from the House for having an affair, though certainly the rules have been written broadly enough that investigations may be launched if there is suspected conduct that’s deemed to be detrimental to the House,” said Joshua Stockley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

“I’m skeptical because (House) members are generally reluctant to report on each other,” he said. “It’s not illegal to have an affair, and so unless something larger and more egregious is suspected, then I would doubt something moves forward.”

Added Cross, the ULL professor: “There’s no political reward for Republicans to beat up one of their own members, particularly when that member has apologized. If they were going to investigate every congressman who’s kissed a staffer, they’d have to get the whole House out.”

Michelle Millhollon and Marsha Shuler of the The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.