After Democratic leaders and the White House pressured him to step down, the embattled N.Y. lawmaker will announce today he's leaving Congress
Rep. Anthony Weiner, the embattled New York Democrat whose online "sextual" escapades spawned an odd and a drawn out Washington political scandal, plans to resign his House seat after nearly two weeks of painfully trying to resist the mounting calls for him to step aside that drew in even President Obama, The New York Times reports.
Weiner, who represented part of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, was a hero to many liberals and a ubiquitous presence on cable TV, loudly and defiantly defending the values and positions of the political left. For the last two weeks, however he has been dealing with a crisis born out of revelations about his tragic-comic obsession with sexting that drove him to send lewd pictures of himself and engage in sexual banter with women on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
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Weiner finally stepped down after a tortured series of events that had him insisting he either didn't do things that he did or wouldn't do something he just did - and eventually requesting and obtaining a two-week leave of absence from the House on Monday to get professional help.
He had steadfastly said that he would not resign.
But his problems grew more complicated in recent days when he admitted through a non-government spokesman Friday that he had engaged in internet conversations with a 17-year-old Delaware girl. That statement came after local police had interviewed the girl about her contact with Weiner.
Weiner - suddenly responding to the news only through a public relations consultant and no longer through his congressional staff - insisted that the internet conversations were not sexual or inappropriate. But merely the fact he had had such contact with a teen seemed to bring his troubles to a critical mass, and prompted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other top Democrats to join the calls for him to resign.
Instead, Weiner announced through his publicist Saturday that he would be seeking a leave of absence from Congress to get professional treatment, to help him get well, and make the best decision for himself, his family, and his constituents.
But even then came the surfacing of more lewd photos of the Congressman reportedly sent to a woman, prompting added unease among his colleagues over whether his troubles were significantly staining Democrats politically, and overshadowing their legislative work, such as efforts to combat Republican Medicare proposals.
Weiner did request and receive his two-week leave Monday, but his case for wanting to wait to get treatment to decide on his future certainly wasn't helped when President Obama told NBC on Monday that he would resign if he were Weiner. Also came word that the House Ethics Committee was looking into his activities. By Tuesday morning, talk from colleagues was that he finally was seriously considering resigning, but waiting to first talk to his wife, Huma Abedin about it. Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, had been traveling through Wednesday overseas with Clinton.
Weiner's troubles began two weeks ago when he accidentally published an erotic photograph of himself on Twitter instead of sending it privately to a college student as he had intended. Initially, Weiner denied that he had sent the photograph and claimed that someone had hacked his Twitter account.
Weiner, 46, had hoped to finish his seventh term in Congress before running again for New York City mayor in 2013 - where his road to victory was anything but certain or clear. Weiner finished second in the 2005 Democratic primary to Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and appeared intent on fueling his bid for mayor with TV appearances and the campaign cash they tend to generate, but those dreams now seem remote, as Weiner's political career lies in the smoking ruins of his libidinous tweets and lewd Facebook messages he exchanged with women he met online. Weiner was forced to confront the reality that his political future was in shambles.
Some Republicans, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), predictably were early in calling for Weiner's resignation. But that is not what pushed Weiner over the resignation cliff. More likely, he surveyed the landscape, with what seemed to be new details and revelations about his tawdry virtual dealings with women who were not his wife, and found that few House Democrats had any appetite for him to stick around. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), who is in charge of recruitment for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was one of the first Democrats last week to call on Weiner to step aside. Also early were Reps. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), Mike Ross (D-Ark.), and Larry Kissell (D-N.C.), and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may have helped to hammer home the notion for Weiner that he was now pretty much alone. Although he stopped short of saying Weiner should resign, he did tell reporters last week, "I wish there was some way I can defend him, but I can't." And when asked what advice he would give Weiner if asked, Reid responded, "Call somebody else."
Though she did not call for his resignation until Saturday, Pelosi had been out front last week in publicly requesting that the House Ethics Committee investigate Weiner's activities.
The tipping point appeared to be Friday, when a relative of the Delaware girl told The New York Times that the messages were "harmless" but according to the Times "expressed concern that Mr. Weiner had communicated privately with the teenager, a high school junior."
According the Times, "In the past few days, the girl and her family have become subjects of intense interest in the news media." Then came Sunday's partially naked photos of Weiner posted on the Internet by TMZ.com, which it said were taken from the House members gym.
As with so much in the Weiner saga, it's impossible not to be funny or sound funny - even when you don't want to be and especially when none of Weiner's Democratic colleagues find this situation the least bit mirthful. In fact, "stomach-churning" is the phrase most commonly uttered in Democratic circles, where - until Weiner resigned - a sense of dismay and powerlessness mix toxically with anger and revulsion.
Weiner's journey from the unknown congressman from Brooklyn to cable TV "political-celebrity" looked pretty vanilla in the annals of get-on-TV-make-a-name-for-yourself identity politics practiced by an avid minority of Democrats and Republicans. And Weiner has never been self-conscious about his name: At the State University of New York (Plattsburgh), he ran for student government with the slogan "Vote for Weiner - he'll be frank."
Legislatively, Weiner was always a bit of cipher. He did sponsor a bill in 2007 to create an online registry of sex offender's e-mail addresses (we'll skip the ritualistic use of "ironic" here), and the House passed a bill of his in 2008 to reduce illegal cigarette sales. Elected in 1998, Weiner seemed intent on serving his Brooklyn constituents principally on TV and laying the ground work for his next bid for mayor.
But Weiner's cable exploits - on politics and in policy - brought him visibility and a degree of caucus fame. He routinely appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN to do battle with Republican colleagues or, on occasion, cable anchors. (Until his sexting scandal, Weiner's best-known TV exploits were with Fox anchor Megyn Kelly - the "cat fights" are something of a YouTube legend.) Weiner came to the Capitol as an aide to then-Rep. Chuck Schumer and learned from the aggressive and TV-savvy Schumer that few things accumulated power and prestige faster than an elevated media profile.
Weiner certainly has that now. But he has little else - at least politically.
Image credit: David Karp/AP
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