WASHINGTON -- Wasting no time in separating his presidential campaign from what he described as the "corruption and insider dealing that has become so pervasive in our nation's capital," Sen. John McCain called on fellow Republican Sen. Ted Stevens to step down from the U.S. Senate.
Stevens, 84, was convicted Monday by a jury in Washington, D.C., of accepting thousands of dollars in freebies, including renovations that doubled his home in size. Stevens has vowed to appeal the seven felony convictions and press on with his own re-election campaign in the week leading up to the Nov. 4 election. He is only the fifth sitting senator to be convicted of such a serious crime in the history of the Senate.
"It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down," McCain said in a written statement. "I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all."
Unlike that of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, McCain's statement offers no niceties about their shared time in the Senate and expresses no sympathy for Stevens' family. Its intensity is somewhat surprising given that McCain is a fellow Republican, but not unexpected given the frosty relations the two men have long had. They have sparred over opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, McCain's opposition to earmarks and their differing positions on global warming.
Reid, who personally recruited Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich to run against Stevens, called the verdict "a personal tragedy for our colleague Ted Stevens." He also urged Stevens to "respect the outcome of the judicial process and the dignity of the United States Senate" but didn't suggest he step down.
McCain's call for Stevens' resignation also goes well beyond that of his vice-presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Hours after the verdict, Palin released a statement calling Stevens' conviction "a sad day" for Alaska, but she stopped short of demanding he step down.
"The verdict shines a light on the corrupting influence of the big oil service company that was allowed to control too much of our state," Palin said. "That control was part of the culture of corruption I was elected to fight. And that fight must always move forward regardless of party or seniority or even past service."
In her statement, Palin asks Alaskans to "join me in respecting the workings of our judicial system. I'm confident Senator Stevens will do what is right for the people of Alaska."
She would not tell reporters whether she planned to vote for Stevens.
But if Stevens were to resign from his seat or be expelled by his fellow senators, Palin has a potential -- and complicated -- role in choosing a replacement. No one in Alaska can say for sure how it would work because Alaska's law on senatorial succession was changed twice in 2004 -- once by the Legislature and once by ballot initiative.
Those laws were changed following then-Gov. Frank Murkowski's 2002 appointment of his daughter, Republican Lisa Murkowski, to his vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Both of the 2004 laws call for a special election within 60 to 90 days of the vacancy. But they disagree on whether the governor appoints an interim senator in the meantime. The Alaska Supreme Court would ultimately have to decide which law the state follows.