WASHINGTON -- House Democratic leadership issued a deafening rebuke of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) midday Saturday, calling on the embattled New York Democrat to resign from his post amid growing controversy over his lewd online activity.
In successive statements, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged Weiner to conduct his rehabilitation outside the confines of public office. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) the ranking member of the Budget Committee and former DCCC head, followed with the same request 45 minutes later.
“Congressman Weiner has the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents, and the recognition that he needs help," said Pelosi, whose word carries the most weight of the group. "I urge Congressman Weiner to seek that help without the pressures of being a Member of Congress.”
Shortly after the calls for resignation were delivered, reports emerged that Weiner was, indeed, checking into a treatment center -- though where and for what precisely (depression? addiction?) wasn't immediately clear.
Weiner's office put out a statement confirming those reports and announcing that he had requested a "short leave of absence from the House of Representatives so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well."
Earlier reports suggested that Weiner had no immediate intention of resigning. "Congressman Weiner takes the views of his colleagues very seriously and has determined that he needs this time to get healthy and make the best decision possible for himself, his family and his constituents," the statement from his office continued.
The latest chapter in an increasingly lurid saga came as Weiner had been declining private and, occasionally, public pleas for him to step down. The congressman's defenders noted that his lewd interactions over Twitter and Facebook -- while personally embarrassing -– neither constituted a breach of law nor interfered (at the time) with his ability to conduct his job.
According to several well-placed Democratic sources on the Hill, the situation changed on Friday night, when it was reported that police were investigating direct online communications between Weiner and a 17-year-old girl. The nature of those conversations wasn't known. The congressman's office insisted that they were "neither explicit nor indecent."
But House members were clearly bothered by the newest revelations. And with lawmakers returning to Washington D.C. after a recess, the decision was made to have a coordinated call for Weiner's resignation.
"The pressure was building," said one top Democratic aide, "with the Sunday shows tomorrow and members coming back on Monday… the [17-year-old] story was the last straw."
Another aide said that leadership alerted Weiner, before the fact, that they would be calling for his resignation.
The concern now, among some Democrats, is that the party may have waited too long. Rather than come out quickly with calls for Weiner to resign, they allowed his saga to distract from their efforts to keep The Republican Party's Medicare reform plan in the news. "They should have thrown this guy to the sharks days ago," said one top operative who consults with House members.
On the flip side is a vocal and not entirely insignificant number of Democrats who believe that the party should let Weiner ride his personal storm. Pointing to the current, elected, status of Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) they note, correctly, that the best recipe for surviving a scandal is perseverance and time.
Unfortunately for those like-minded Democrats, official party leadership appears to have little willingness to walk that route. One aide suggested that if Weiner refused to step down, even in light of the Saturday statements, Pelosi would remove him from his committees.
“Anthony’s inappropriate behavior has become an insurmountable distraction to the House and our work for the American people," said Israel in a statement. "With a heavy heart, I call on Anthony to resign. I pray for his family and hope that Anthony will take time to get the help he needs without the distractions and added pressures of Washington, DC.”