Meehan resigns with promise to pay back alleged sexual harassment claim

Rep. Patrick Meehan is resigning from Congress effective immediately, the Pennsylvania Republican announced Friday.

Meehan, who has been battling sexual misconduct allegations, had already announced that he planned to retire from Congress. 

He said in a statement that he plans to pay back the $39,000 he used from his office account to settle a claim against him.

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“While I do believe I would be exonerated of any wrongdoing, I also did not want to put my staff through the rigors of an Ethics Committee investigation and believed it was best for them to have a head start on new employment rather than being caught up in an inquiry. And since I have chosen to resign, the inquiry will not become a burden to taxpayers and committee staff,” Meehan said in a statement. 

The House Ethics Committee voted in February to open an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Meehan and his former chief of staff.

Meehan previously sat on the committee, but was removed after The New York Times reported he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint with a former staffer.

The Times reported that Meehan professed romantic desires to a staffer after she initiated a relationship with a man outside the congressman’s office. Meehan then allegedly grew hostile toward the woman when she did not accept his overtures.

Meehan later acknowledged much of what the Times reported, including that he expressed his affection to the woman over ice cream and that he was upset when told of her relationship with another man.

However, he denied he harassed the woman and argued the payment was "severance."

On Friday morning, some lawmakers were overheard on the House floor congratulating Meehan for taking his last vote, which left some members speculating whether he would soon be stepping down from Congress.

Meehan, a Catholic, was one of two Republicans who stood with Democrats on the House floor on Friday while they offered a resolution that would have set up a select committee to investigate Patrick Conroy’s dismissal as House chaplain. 

Former Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdAP Analysis: 25 state lawmakers running in 2018 have been accused of sexual misconduct Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Republican wins right to replace Farenthold in Congress MORE (R-Texas), who was facing an ethics probe after revelations he used taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment claim involving a former aide, also resigned from Congress earlier this month.

Pennsylvania state law mandates that the governor set a date for a special election within 10 days of Meehan's resignation. The date of the election must be at least 60 days from the date the governor makes that announcement.

In that special election, candidates will run for the right to finish Meehan's term until the end of the year. There won't be an official primary ballot, as the political parties will pick their own candidates during nominating conventions.

But while the state Supreme Court ruled the state's congressional lines unconstitutional and redrew the lines for the 2018 cycle, the special election will occur under the old lines. For that reason, when Gov. Tom Wolf (D) schedules the special election, voters will be tasked with choosing someone to represent the old district for the remainder of the year, as well as another lawmaker to represent the new district in 2019.

Meehan's old district, the 7th Congressional District, had been considered a toss-up seat because Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Dem pollster: GOP women have a more difficult time winning primary races than Dems Mellman: (Mis)interpreting elections MORE won it during the 2016 presidential election. The new district, which will be the 5th Congressional District, is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Scott Wong and Ben Kamisar contributed to this report. Updated at 2:23 p.m.