None of the four lawmakers were investigated for breaking the law,
and they all quit before the ethics committee could render a verdict on
their conduct--although it does not take an investigative subcommittee to
conclude their actions did not reflect honorably on the House.
They were largely matters of personal, private failing, but when the
scandals broke, the countdown clocks for resignation started ticking.
Weiner took nearly three weeks to resign from the day the scandal broke
over his lewd online communications with at least six women. Initially,
he sought to stay in office but intense internal pressure from
Democratic leaders and extensive media scrutiny made it clear to
everyone but Weiner that his days were numbered.
"I think, in part, it is a reflection of the standard [House Speaker] John Boehner
has set," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the ethics watchdog
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "He has made it
clear that he is not going to lose his majority over some idiot's"
personal failing, she said.
Pelosi, in turn, met that standard when she called for Weiner's
resignation and worked to keep the pressure on him to leave the House.
Democrats were even mulling stripping Weiner of his committee
assignments--an extraordinary disciplinary step for a lawmaker not under
any formal investigation or accused of breaking any law. Republicans
believe Pelosi is reacting to a standard Boehner has set--that she can't
be outdone on ethics when she built her winning 2006 majority largely on
an argument that the GOP was ethically bankrupt. Whether by force or by
choice, Pelosi now appears to be of the same mindset as her Republican
counterpart that when it comes to sex scandals and the rank-and-file,
there is zero tolerance.
That mindset, however, does not translate as easily to non-sexual ethical allegations. Pelosi never called for Rep. Charles Rangel,
D-N.Y., to resign over ethics violations for financial matters. Rangel
was the first lawmaker in nearly 30 years to be censured, the most
severe form of punishment shy of expulsion from the chamber. Boehner has
similarly taken a softer approach to Rep. David Rivera,
R-Fla., who is under criminal investigation in Florida for potential
financial abuses. The speaker has previously said that the he would wait
to see how the investigation pans out.
In some ways, the distinction is obvious. While there are legal
ambiguities in non-sexual ethical investigations, there was no public or
private doubts that Souder, Massa, Lee, and Weiner did what they were
accused of doing. "There is a standard now that it will just not be
tolerated," said Ted Van Der Meid, an attorney, former chief counsel for
House ethics, and a former House Republican leadership aide to Speaker
Dennis Hastert. Van Der Meid said the cultural shift is due in part
because the public already holds Congress in low regard. "The public
just can't stand it, and when they see members of Congress act like that
it just infuriates them."