Scott DesJarlais Presides Over Congress Pro Forma Session Despite Abortion Scandal

10/12/2012 12:34 pm ET | Updated Oct 12, 2012

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's campaign may have distanced itself from philandering Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), but Republican House leaders handed him the gavel to preside over Friday's pro forma session despite revelations this week that the doctor-politician had pushed his mistress to get an abortion.

The woman had also been his patient.

Yet House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) apparently was comfortable enough with DesJarlais to appoint him president pro tempore to gavel in a short session of the House, in which no business was conducted. Pro forma sessions are being held to limit President Barack Obama's ability to make appointments while Congress is in recess.

A Boehner spokesman did not immediately answer a request for comment.

News that DesJarlais, a Tea Party freshman, had at least four extramarital affairs, including one with the patient he pressured to have an abortion in a September 2000 phone call, has roiled his Tennessee race. Some local Republicans are backing DesJarlais.

But the Romney campaign removed all links to a DesJarlais endorsement on its website Thursday, and two statewide Republican officials, Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Lamar Alexander, both declined to offer DesJarlais support.

DesJarlais has not denied that he urged his mistress-patient to end a pregnancy, although on Thursday, speaking about the affair for the first time in a radio interview, he insisted the woman was not actually pregnant.

"I don't mind telling people that there was no pregnancy and no abortion," he told WTN-FM host Ralph Bristol. "But I also don't mind telling people that this was a protracted two-year divorce back in 1999 and 2000. There was some difficult times, for sure."

In the transcript of the phone call with his mistress, which DesJarlais appears to have recorded himself, he expressed some skepticism about the woman's pregnancy and at one point suggested she provide him with proof.

DesJarlais had begged off a debate set for Thursday night, saying he had to preside over the pro forma session.

DesJarlais' Democratic opponent, state Sen. Eric Stewart, has seized on the revelations, declaring that DesJarlais can't be trusted.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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