Tennessee: GOP Leaders Silent as Drip of DesJarlais Headlines Continues
Republican leaders on Capitol Hill were largely silent as new revelations stemming from Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ messy decade-old divorce came to light Thursday.
The office of Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio declined to comment on a report in the Chattanooga Times Free Press that said the Tennessee lawmaker and doctor had “sexual relationships with at least two patients, three coworkers and a drug representative while he was chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn.” The paper also reported that records showed DesJarlais “supported his ex-wife’s decision to get two abortions before their marriage.”
The revelations came from DesJarlais’ 2001 sworn testimony from his divorce trial. A staunch social conservative, the freshman Congressman has run for office as an anti-abortion candidate.
At votes Thursday afternoon, DesJarlais was seen having an intense conversation with Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan on the House floor. Jordan is the outgoing chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
Controversy has swirled around DesJarlais since mid-October, when it came to light that when he was a practicing physician, he pressured a patient with whom he was having an extramarital affair to get an abortion.
“No comment at this time,” DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson said when asked about the new revelations.
DesJarlais was already likely to face a tough primary, but with the new information and continued negative attention, the question becomes whether he will remain in office until 2014.
In Tennessee, GOP political circles were buzzing with the news. Multiple Tennessee GOP operatives told Roll Call that there is a growing sense of unease with DesJarlais among the grass roots but no signs yet that he would be pushed out. Indeed, conventional wisdom is that he will hunker down and try to ride out the storm until a primary.
“A lot of folks over at the [state] party leadership, they are assessing this now,” a Tennessee Republican operative said. “But this looks bad.”
Republicans who could run for the seat in the heavily GOP-leaning district — either in a primary or in a special election — include state Sen. Jim Tracy, state Reps. Kevin Brooks and Joe Carr, former Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble, Murfreesboro businessman Shane Reeves and state Speaker Pro-Tem Judd Matheny.
In the event that DesJarlais were to resign, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam would have 10 days issue a writ of election, according to state statute. The primary would occur 55 to 60 days after that writ of election, and the general would occur 100 to 107 days after the writ.
Depending on when a vacancy occurred, a special election could be called for the same date as local elections. But a spokesman for the Tennessee secretary of state’s office said the 2013 election calendar had not yet been finalized.
Daniel Newhauser and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.