By Mike Lillis - 06/08/11 12:32 AM EDT
Pressure on Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) intensified Tuesday as calls for his resignation and a probe into his online dalliances arrived simultaneously.
From the right, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) urged Weiner to resign, while from the left, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked Ethics Committee leaders to investigate whether Weiner had violated any House rules — an unnecessary step providing clear indication that Democratic leaders want to distance themselves from Weiner in the earliest stages of the process.
“This is an unfortunate situation that I hope can be resolved with speed and clarity,” said Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat.
But behind the scenes, party leaders are more than a little wary of the political baggage Weiner bears — not least of all because of lingering concerns that Monday’s confession might be just the tip of the iceberg.
The scandal is a thorn in the side of the Democrats and Pelosi, who had vowed during the 2006 campaign to “drain the swamp” following a series of high-profile transgressions committed by Republicans, including former Rep. Mark Foley’s (R-Fla.) sexually explicit online messages to teenage male pages.
Pelosi had scheduled a relatively quiet week of fundraising this recess. In the wake of Weiner’s mea culpa, she’s suddenly taken on the additional task of trying to mitigate the political fallout. Democrats are hoping the scandal doesn’t consume all the momentum the party picked up with last month’s upset victory in a special House election in a conservative district of New York. It overshadowed last week’s ceremony to swear in Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.), and has dominated coverage this week.
The GOP’s campaign lieutenants have pounced at the opportunity to link Weiner to other Democrats in the next election cycle. The National Republican Congressional Committee sent emails to voters in 18 districts where the sitting Democrat had received campaign cash from Weiner’s political action committee. One of those lawmakers, Ohio Rep. Betty Sutton, has already vowed to donate her $1,000 to charity.
Senate Democrats were also distancing themselves from the embattled New Yorker on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) paused for several seconds when journalists asked if Weiner should resign.
“I know Congressman Weiner — I wish there was some way I can defend him,” Reid said, plainly not defending the embattled congressman.
When a reporter persisted in asking whether Weiner should resign, Reid said: “I’m not here to defend Weiner. That’s all I’m going to say.”
When another reporter asked what Reid would say if Weiner called him for advice, Reid said he would tell him to “call somebody else.”
A liberal agitator popular with the Democrats’ left flank, Weiner’s outspoken tendencies and longing for the spotlight have sometimes rubbed even Democratic colleagues the wrong way.
A former House Democratic leadership aide said that Weiner’s high-profile defense of party priorities had done little to generate goodwill with members of either the caucus or the leadership.
“There was no Anthony Weiner base,” the aide said. “He did his own thing on his own time.”
The aide also noted that Weiner’s payments in member dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fell far short of the $200,000 requirement, a delinquency that could haunt him now.
The recent scandal, though, has left him more isolated than even he is accustomed to.
“I just don’t see anyone coming out to defend him,” a senior Democratic aide said Tuesday.
Julian Zelizer, a political scientist at Princeton University, noted a key reason that many politicians are able to survive similar scandals: the short attention span of the media and the public.
“The reality is that if one waits long enough, often the partisan and media frenzy passes over onto another news item,” Zelizer said Tuesday in an email.
“The problem is that this consumes a lot of political energy at a time Democrats were just starting to build momentum. This is the last thing that Democrats need at this time. The chances are that the party will work on separating itself from him, even if he stays in office and continues with his legislative career.”
Some rank-and-file Democrats were unfazed by Weiner’s behavior. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said he considers the episode “a personal matter, as long as government resources weren’t used.”
“I always feel like these are personal issues,” Quigley told The Hill. “As long as they make us out of flesh and blood, people are going to fail us and disappoint us.
“The issue for me is and always will be: Does it affect your professional job?”
Russell Berman and Alexander Bolton contributed to this story.