Democrats are grappling with a new ethics scandal surrounding allegations that Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) sexually assaulted a young woman.
The explosive claims are damning for the party, which was beginning to recover from the tarnished wake former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) left when he resigned last month, after initially denying that he sent sexually suggestive pictures of himself to young women over social-media platforms.
Democrats will feel an increasing amount of pressure to ask Wu to resign if the facts of the allegation unfold in an unfavorable way in the coming weeks.
The allegation arises from a report by the Portland Oregonian that the teenaged daughter of a Wu campaign donor left a voicemail on Wu’s district office phone accusing him of acting in a sexually aggressive manner towards her, just weeks after he won reelection.
Wu’s office did not return a request for comment. According to a source, the lawmaker has told staff that the encounter with the young woman did in fact occur, but said it was consensual.
Slaughter said she was appalled by the allegation. There have been too many ethical scandals in Congress recently, she said.
“I’m tired of people coming to the Congress of the United States who can’t behave themselves, who are not obviously fully grown, and it’s a shame,” she said in an interview. “I have no idea what really happened here, I’ve not heard anything, but it certainly sounds bad. We’ve had too much of that in the House.”
Asked whether he should resign from office, Slaughter said, “Yes.”
Sources close to Wu have said that he is not planning on seeking reelection next year, but Wu gave no indication Monday that he would resign. Several television news channel crews were seen in lawn chairs outside of his third-floor Rayburn office.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told The Hill in separate interviews that the revelation of Wu’s alleged sexually inappropriate conduct was not entirely surprising, and that it fit with a pattern of behavior.
There have been numerous instances in which young women in surrounding offices and women Wu has met in public complained to his staff and others about inappropriate interactions that he had initiated, according to sources.
The sources each said they were unaware of any instances as egregious as the allegations raised by the young woman on the voicemail, but it left the young women he approached feeling uncomfortable.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) told The Hill that in his conversation over the weekend with Wu, the Oregon Democrat did not indicate that he would resign. Wu said the allegations were not true, according to Larson, who said the seven-term lawmaker sounded “composed” but was clearly battling with some heavy decisions.
“In my conversation with David, he said, ‘Look, you’re going to hear a lot of things in the papers and they’re not true. I’m just looking for time to get together with my family and be with them,’ ” said Larson.
“And I told him that people will respect that tremendously. And I said, ‘You’ve got to do what’s in [your children’s] best interest and yours and the interest of the institution.’ ”
The allegation against Wu is one of several instances of odd behavior that have surfaced over the past year. In February, staff members revealed that they had received a picture from Wu last October of him dressed in a tiger costume as well as emails written in the voice of his middle-school-aged children.
Wu said the episode was “unprofessional and inappropriate” and attributed it to a stressful campaign. At the behest of his staff, Wu said he was seeking out mental-health help. Following his successful reelection bid, at least seven of his staff members quit.
In 2004 The Oregonian wrote an article about a 1976 incident in which Wu was disciplined for attempting to sexually assault a fellow student at Stanford University.
And in 2003 he was described by The Washington Post as being “almost catatonic” on the House floor in the minutes leading up to an important vote on Medicare.
A source with knowledge of the recent allegation said that Wu’s conduct and his coinciding mental illness have “absolutely” affected his ability to carry out his job. Wu frequently did not know where to draw the line of what was appropriate behavior and he did not think about the consequences of his actions, according to a source.
Wu’s mental illness caused the line of what is appropriate to be further blurred, said another source.
“I don’t feel like he’s fit to serve or should be serving,” said a source. “I don’t think he’s really trying to deal with his mental illness. He hasn’t understood the magnitude of it.”
Unless he is removed from office or resigns, the sources said that Wu would not be likely to reform his ways.
Similar to Weiner, Wu has been known to be more of a lone lawmaker, unafraid to go out on his own while not being adamant about pulling the party line. As a result, Wu does not have many close alliances on Capitol Hill who will back him in such a trying situation.