MONROE, La. – Embattled Louisiana Rep. Vance McAllister issued a less-than-ironclad vow to stay in office today as the state’s Republican governor and party chairman demanded his resignation after a videotape showed him in a lingering kiss with the wife of a friend.
Gov. Bobby Jindal called the congressman’s behavior an embarrassment. “Congressman McAllister says he wants privacy to work on his issues with his family. The best way to get privacy and work on putting his family back together is to resign from Congress,” Jindal said.
Earlier, accusing McAllister of “extreme hypocrisy,” party chairman Roger Villere said in a brutally blunt statement that “a breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation.”
There was milder pressure from Washington, where House Speaker John Boehner said after talking to McAllister, “He’s got decisions that he has to make.” The nation’s top Republican office-holder added, “I expect all members (of Congress) to be held to the highest ethical standards, and this is no different.”
McAllister, who is married and has five children, has not been seen in public since the videotape surfaced. He has missed several votes in the Capitol, including an important one during the day on the Republican budget for the coming fiscal year.
In an email, a spokeswoman for the congressman, Jennifer Dunagin, said that, despite the call for McAllister to step down, “as of now, there are no plans of resignation.”
She added: “The congressman is not focused on re-election right now. His family is his No. 1 priority at this time.”
No prominent Republicans have leapt to McAllister’s defense since a videotape surfaced on Monday showing him in the arms of Melissa Peacock, who was on his congressional payroll until resigning as the recording’s existence became known.
McAllister put his family and his faith at the center of his campaign for Congress last year, appearing with his wife, Kelly, and their children in one commercial and vowing to “defend our Christian way of life” if elected.
In his statement, Villere said, “Mr. McAllister’s extreme hypocrisy is an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics.”
Villere added: “A video showing him engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of Congress, on public time, in a public office, with one of his employees, was the focus of the national press for days. I call on Mr. McAllister to put the interests of his nation, state and party above his own and step aside.”
The husband of the woman seen kissing McAllister, Heath Peacock, told CNN in an interview that McAllister has “wrecked” his life.
“I know his beliefs. When he ran one of his commercials, he said, ‘I need your prayers,’ and I asked, ‘When did you get religious?’ He said, ‘When I needed votes,”’ CNN quoted Peacock as saying. “He broke out the religious card and he’s about the most nonreligious person I know.”
The two couples were friends, and both Peacock and his wife were listed as donors on campaign reports McAllister filed with the Federal Election Committee.
While Boehner declined to discuss the conversation he had with McAllister, he has shown little tolerance in the past for wayward lawmakers. In 2010, Republican Rep. Mark Souder quickly resigned at the speaker’s private urging after admitting to an extramarital affair with an aide in his office in Indiana.
Other Republican congressional leaders including Majority Leader Eric Cantor also have spoken with McAllister in recent days, although the Virginia Republican’s spokesman, Rory Cooper, refused to respond to an email or otherwise confirm the conversation had occurred.
For their part, Democrats were bystanders. The congressional seat appeared to be unwinnable for them, even if McAllister were to run again.
Whatever the pressure on McAllister, there is little or nothing the party or the congressional leadership can do to force him from office, and a decision to seek re-election this fall would leave the decision up to the voters.
One resident of the congressional district said that was the proper way to settle McAllister’s political fate.
“We elected him, and it should be up to us to decide in November,” said Pamela Nolan, a hospital pharmacist from Richland Parish.