GOP leaders split over fallout from sex scandals

Republicans struggled over the weekend to move past the scandals plaguing their party, as prominent party members split over how and whether to address the extramarital affairs of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.).

The scandals further weaken a party that is trying to gain traction in their arguments against sweeping legislation that Democrats are pushing through Congress.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to address the controversies on Sunday, trying instead to draw attention back to Republican policies.

"We're working on healthcare and the people's business, and that's what we're doing in the Senate," McConnell said on "Fox News Sunday" in response to a question about Sanford.

The Kentucky Republican repeated that refrain three times when pressed on the issue.

Yet other Republicans acknowledged the need to address the perceived hypocrisy of the scandals, during which politicians who have claimed to support family values and traditional marriage have fallen short of their own moral standards.

"People are going to look at that and say, 'Hm, they don't walk the walk,'" Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"Hypocrisy doesn't sell," Pawlenty added later. "Republicans have to be true to their values, true to their principles."

Mitt Romney seemed most willing to take a shot at Sanford's behavior, though he refused to call out the governor by name.

"You have to recognize that people who are in public life ought to be held to a higher standard," Romney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Romney acknowledged the common refrain that "everyone makes mistakes," but said Sanford's mistakes were unusually bad.

"Not all mistakes are the same, and not everybody is a governor, or a senator, or a president," Romney said. When politicians like Sanford act improperly, it damages "the culture of the nation, and the people who follow them will be hurt."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), appearing alongside Romney, said Sanford would only be able to continue as governor if he could repair his marriage.

"If he can reconcile with his family, and if he's willing to try, the people of South Carolina will give him a second chance," Graham said.

Graham added that the burden is on the governor to redeem himself.

"Mark Sanford is lucky to have Jenny Sanford, and I hope he realizes that."

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Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), who became chairman of the Republican Governors Association when Sanford gave up that position last week, agreed that the scandals reflect the broader problem Republicans have had of living up to their values.

"Republicans need to do what they say theyr'e going to do," Barbour said on CBS's "Face the Nation," citing fiscal discipline as another area in which action has fallen short of rhetoric.

But Barbour, who is mentioned as a possible 2012 presidential candidate, refused to directly address Sanford's indiscretions.

"I just don't talk about people's personal problems," Barbour said. "I don't think it's appropriate, I don't think it's polite, and I don't think it achieves any purpose."

None of the Republican leaders said the GOP should stop talking about social issues, which has opened  the party up to charges of hypocrisy.

"I think we're a party of sinners, just like every other group in America," Graham said. "But we're also a party that openly talks about good things."