Top Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Steve Israel called for the resignation of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner on Saturday, less than a week after he admitted carrying on flirtatious online relationships with a series of women in a tearful press conference. DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz joined her colleagues, telling the AP that Weiner’s digital dalliances were an “unacceptable distraction” to the party and that his role in Congress was “untenable.” Last Monday, Weiner said he would not resign, but his office announced Saturday that he will take a “short leave of absence” from the House to seek treatment at a live-in facility.
The controversy, which started when a lewd picture accidentally went public on Weiner’s Twitter account, has gotten progressively worse during its two weeks in the public eye. After scrambling to cover his digital tracks and lying to reporters in a series of confrontational interviews, Weiner admitted to carrying on online relationships with six women over three years Monday, including during his marriage to State Department aide Huma Abedin. On Friday, Weiner admitted that he sent messages to a 17-year-old Delaware girl. Though he says those messages were not explicit, authorities are reportedly investigating the exchange.
Weiner’s transgressions — and the prospects of facing a media maelstrom when the House returned to session next week — proved too much for the Democratic leadership. Though Weiner might be forced out in New York’s congressional redistricting next year anyway, the slow bleed 0f new revelations and the possibility of a drawn out ethics investigation put Democratic leadership in a tough spot. Pelosi was in fact the first to call for an ethics probe, and with the exception of William Jefferson, the Louisiana congressman with $90,000 of cash in his freezer, Pelosi has rarely turned one of her members so quickly. (Charlie Rangel, with his defiant rambling diatribes on the House floor and all, remained in Pelosi’s good graces for far longer.) One possible explanation for her swift reaction is that she is attempting to set a precedent for any Republican scandals down the road.
But Weiner, whose aggressive media presence and penchant for partisan bombast had ruffled feathers in the New York delegation and beyond, was left with few if any allies in the wake of the scandal. While his colleagues were largely silent when the controversy first began, their ambivalence has since turned to hostility. Details of his online communications with a minor were the final straw, and on Saturday, the leadership decided it was time for Weiner to go. Rep. Chris Van Hollen called Weiner’s actions a “violation of the public trust.” “I pray for his family and hope that Anthony will take time to get the help he needs without the distractions and added pressures of Washington,” Israel said in a statement.
“Congressman Weiner takes the views of his colleagues very seriously and has determined that he needs this time to get healthy and make the best decision possible for himself, his family and his constituents,” spokeswoman Risa Heller said in a statement announcing Weiner’s decision to seek professional help and keep out of the Washington spotlight for now. Still, with his decision not to resign, Weiner seems to be clinging to the hope that like David Vitter or Bill Clinton, he can ride the scandal out in office. Of course, if further embarrassments continue to trickle out at the current pace, that will be difficult to do.