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Reading the Tea Leaves About Dennis Hastert

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert won't make scheduled appearances at a pair of GOP fundraising events this weekend in Arizona, but that shouldn't be taken as a sign that the Illinois Republican is planning to lower his profile in advance of a planned early retirement from Congress.

Hastert canceled what would have been his first big-money events on the road since last November's elections because he is still home recovering from gallbladder surgery he underwent last month, aides said. The former top House Republican, who has been under a retirement watch ever since his party lost control of Congress last fall, was slated to co-headline a fundraising weekend for the National Republican Congressional Committee in the Phoenix area and an event on behalf of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) in Scottsdale.

After the Republicans lost control of Congress in November, it was widely speculated that Hastert would retire from the House sometime before 2008.

But recent moves suggest he may be planning to stick around for a while. Hastert recently sent out a fundraising pitch for his reelection committee, as reported in Roll Call just as he headed into the hospital for gallbladder surgery.

Also, he recently endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination, signaling that he may play a public role in the former Massachusetts governor's campaign, at least in helping court Chicago-area donors.

This activity comes after a brief hibernation. After news of ex-Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate contact with House pages emerged last fall, Hastert canceled dozens of fundraising events for Republican candidates as he dealt with a public-relations uproar over how his office handled the page scandal. (The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct later concluded that Hastert's top staff showed an "inexplicable lack of interest in the e-mails" from Foley to pages.)

Hastert's top political adviser said his boss will not be in as much demand as in years past, but the ex-Speaker expects to pitch in whenever he's approached.

"He's happy to help whenever he can," said John McGovern, spokesman for Hastert's Keep Our Mission political action committee (formerly the Keep Our Majority PAC). "He'll certainly be responsive to members' requests."

Despite Hastert's absence this weekend, the NRCC and Renzi are expected to have a full house of party leaders on hand to help raise money, including Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the GOP's chief deputy whip, and Reps. Tom Latham (Iowa) and Patrick McHenry (N.C.).

By Paul Kane  |  February 13, 2007; 7:45 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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