WASHINGTON -- Within hours of his indictment, Sen. Ted Stevens stepped down Tuesday from his powerful slots as the top Republican on the committees that oversee defense spending and agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Coast Guard.
The two committee assignments represent a substantial point of pride, and influence, for Stevens. He works closely with his longtime friend Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, on both the Commerce Committee and the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. As the top GOP member of Commerce, Stevens controlled a sizeable staff, including a separate communications director.
But Senate GOP rules require that a senator facing an indictment step down until the matter has been straightened out. If convicted, the senator is automatically replaced.
"All I can say is I hope this will turn out fairly," said fellow Republican Sen. John Warner, 81, of Virginia, who is retiring this year after 30 years as a senator, including a high-profile stint as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Warner on Tuesday added this about Stevens: "He was a hero and a fighter and he's been a fighter for this country's interests and a fighter for his state ever since, and a strong leader in the Senate."
His longtime friend Inouye, 83, had this to say: "As far as I am concerned, Ted Stevens remains my friend. I believe in him."
Senate Republicans last dealt with a high-profile shakeup of committee assignments last summer, when Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was asked to give up his leadership posts after news broke he had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after his arrest in a sex sting in the men's room of the Minneapolis airport.
The news for Stevens didn't get any better as the day went on. The Alaska Democratic Party called on Stevens to resign. Budget watchdogs who've criticized Stevens' earmarks over the years urged him to step down from the committees where he has wielded so much clout.
And at least one fellow Republican facing a tough reelection campaign, Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, decided to send to charity the $10,000 Stevens has given her campaign this election cycle. Other Democrats challenging Republicans in competitive districts, such as Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, also asked their opponents to make charitable donations of the money Stevens had donated to their campaigns.