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Republican leader reserves judgment on congressman caught in kiss

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) addresses a news conference at the Republican National Committee offices on Capitol Hill in Wa
U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) addresses a news conference at the Republican National Committee offices on Capitol Hill in Wa

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on Tuesday a fellow House Republican was right to apologize after being caught on a video kissing a woman on his staff, but Cantor declined to say whether the congressman should resign.

Representative Vance McAllister of Louisiana, who is married and has five children, issued the apology on Monday after the building surveillance video was posted by the Ouachita Citizen newspaper on its website.

"I think that his constituents deserve an apology. I'm glad he issued an apology," Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, told reporters after he was pressed on whether McAllister should resign.

"I've not had a chance to speak to the congressman, so I am going to reserve further judgment on the question," Cantor said. "I will say that the American people deserve all of their representatives here in Washington to hold to a very high standard of behavior."

McAllister, who took office last November after winning a special election partly by touting his Christian values, has not appeared on the House floor to vote since issuing the apology on Monday.

"There's no doubt I've fallen short and I'm asking for forgiveness," McAllister, 40, said in a statement issued by his office. "I'm asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve."

The grainy, low-light video, captured on December 23, 2013, with a handheld camera pointed at a multiframe security monitor, shows a man the paper identified as McAllister embracing and passionately kissing a woman, identified by local media as Melissa Peacock, 33.

Peacock is also married and works as the scheduler in the congressman's Monroe, Louisiana district office. The two then left the office together, captured by other cameras in the building.

Peacock and her husband, Heath Peacock, have longstanding ties to McAllister, each contributing $5,200 to his election campaign, according to Federal Elections Commission disclosure forms. Melissa Peacock's occupation was listed as "self-employed/cosmetology" and Heath Peacock's occupation was listed as "Wilcrest/inspector," a position with a previous employer.

CNN quoted Heath Peacock as saying that he was "devastated" by the incident and blamed McAllister for ruining his marriage.

"He has wrecked my life," Peacock told CNN. "We're headed for divorce."

Phone messages left at the Peacock home in Sterlington, Louisiana, were not immediately returned.

In an interview with the News-Star newspaper in Monroe, Louisiana, McAllister said that he has asked his wife of 16 years, Kelly, and their five children for forgiveness and intends to run for re-election in November.

"If the people are willing to forgive me I'll keep fighting," McAllister told the newspaper. "If there's somebody more perfect than me who they support, it's their will."

The Army veteran, who has worked in the oil, gas and pipeline businesses and owns three Subway sandwich shops, was a newcomer to politics when he ran to fill a congressional seat vacated last year, boasting that he had never before visited Washington.

After coming to Washington, he was best known for inviting Willie Robertson, the star of the hit cable TV series "Duck Dynasty," to be his guest at January's State of the Union address by President Barack Obama. Robertson, who heads the Duck Commander duck-call business, had appeared in a campaign ad for McAllister.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Peter Cooney, Eric Walsh and Jonathan Oatis)

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