House Democrats are trying to turn the page on the Anthony Weiner sex scandal with a simple tactic: They’re largely ignoring it.
In their first caucus meeting since Weiner’s tearful public confession during last week’s recess, Democrats on Tuesday focused almost all of their attention on gas prices, the economy and financial regulatory reform, according to a long list of members emerging from the gathering.
The Democrats are hoping to shift public attention away from Weiner’s dubious celebrity for fear that his personal crisis could become the party’s political handicap.
“We’re hearing that he might resign in a couple of days,” she said, without naming her source.
Most Democrats have declined to comment on the scandal — a trend that continued Tuesday — while others sought to shift the national discussion back to more substantial issues like healthcare and unemployment.
“We’re discussing the economy and other issues,” Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said tersely as she left the caucus meeting.
“Oil prices are being manipulated, in order to be higher. That’s what this caucus was about,” said an equally concise Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). “The rest I’m not commenting on.”
Some Democrats scolded the Fourth Estate for showering so much attention on the tawdry Weiner episode even as millions of people remain unemployed and the economy continues to limp.
Asked by a reporter if the scandal is a distraction, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) responded, “Only because you make it so.
“I just urge you to concentrate on what’s important for the whole country,” Kaptur said, noting the soaring unemployment rate in her Ohio district.
About three dozen reporters gathered outside the caucus meeting, which generates almost no interest from the press in a typical week. None broached a topic other than the Weiner scandal.
Meanwhile, at Rep. Steny Hoyer’s (Md.) weekly press conference, Weiner’s name hardly came up. Instead, the Democratic whip spent most of the session arguing the importance of raising the debt ceiling.
When asked about Weiner, Hoyer was cautious, reiterating his hope that the New Yorker will step down, but not explicitly pushing him to do so.
“It’d be very difficult for him to proceed, given the circumstances, and I hope that he’s seriously considering taking a course that will take him out of this context and get him to deal with … his own personal life and not be burdened by being a member [of Congress],” Hoyer said.
Weiner, a seven-term New York Democrat, acknowledged last week that he’d recently sent pictures of his underwear-clad groin to a Seattle college student less than half his age. Since then, more and more similar photos and lewd messages have surfaced on the Internet, evidently leaked by the various women with whom Weiner was communicating over social media.
Weiner, 46, is married to Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The couple are expecting their first child.
Behind Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a number of Democratic leaders have called on Weiner to step down to prevent the scandal from becoming an enduring distraction and a stain on the party.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Pelosi explained to her troops the reasons she’s calling on Weiner to resign.
“I wanted to be sure that they knew why I came to the conclusion that — with the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents and the need for help — that Congressman Weiner should resign from the Congress,” Pelosi said as she left the meeting.
The response from rank-and-file Democrats, said Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), was positive.
“The comments were praising the leader for the dignified way that she handled this, which I agree with,” Andrews said.
Weiner has so far refused to step down, instead taking a two-week leave of absence from his congressional duties in hopes that the criticisms will blow over.
Not all Democrats were silent on Weiner’s fate Tuesday. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), for instance, minced no words. “I think he should resign,” she said.
Pelosi on Monday suggested that, if Weiner doesn’t step down, she would strip him of his coveted seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“If we are asking him to leave, we are certainly not going to welcome him here with committee assignments,” she said.
McCarthy disagreed, describing such a move as “not fair to his constituents.”
“He has to take care of his constituents,” she said. “That’s not up to me.”
There was no discussion of whether the caucus should move to expel Weiner or remove him from the Energy and Commerce panel, according to several members.
“There’s been no decision on that,” Hoyer said.
Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said Weiner’s fate is in his own hands, but suggested the caucus should apply the pressure to make resignation the most viable option.
“He’ll have to make that decision,” Levin said, “but we need to send a clear message.”
Meanwhile, one high-profile Democrat has declined to weigh in for decidedly different reasons than the others. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said Tuesday that his own brush with a sexual scandal leaves him in no position to judge Weiner.
In the mid-1980s, Frank admitted he solicited sex from a male prostitute, Stephen Gobie, and later hired him as a live-in aide and driver. It later came to light that Gobie was offering prostitution services out of Frank’s Capitol Hill apartment.
“Given these circumstances, where I was myself engaged in activity I shouldn’t have been … I just don’t think it’s appropriate for me to set myself up as the judge of others,” Frank said.