The overwhelming reaction Thursday afternoon among rank-and-file lawmakers as well as top leaders of both parties to the news of Anthony Weiner’s resignation was that the scandal-ridden New York Democrat’s decision was the right one, long overdue.
But as Weiner held a news conference in New York City to announce he was stepping down from the House, there was also a sense of regret among his closest allies on Capitol Hill about the actions that eventually cost their friend the seat he had held for more than 12 years.
Several of Weiner’s allies — Democratic Reps. Michael Capuano (Mass.), Bill Pascrell (N.J.), Bob Brady (Pa.) and Mike Doyle (Pa.) — happened to be gathered together at the moment Weiner, 46, announced his resignation.
The person who had brought them together Thursday afternoon was not Weiner, but rather the late Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.), in whose honor more than two dozen lawmakers had gathered to plant a tree on the southwest side of the Capitol.
Capuano, who had lived with Weiner on Capitol Hill for nearly a decade and on Monday submitted his friend’s request for a two-week leave of absence, said after the Murtha event that the scandal was “a sad situation.”
“Anthony screwed up,” Capuano said. But even as he condemned Weiner’s behavior, Capuano emphasized that the lawmaker’s circle of friends was standing by him.
“A friend is defined by when you need them,” he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who last weekend called on Weiner to step down — addressed the crowd at the Murtha event moments after the congressman announced his resignation.
Despite the fact that the two events were playing out in tandem, the tree-planting ceremony in honor of the longtime appropriations subcommittee chairman and the spectacle of Weiner’s farewell speech could not have seemed further apart. An aide handed Pelosi a note just before she was set to take the podium, but the message conveyed the news that there were 28 lawmakers present at the ceremony and not the news that Weiner had formally announced his resignation moments earlier.
Under overcast skies, Pelosi, Brady, Doyle, Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Murtha’s widow, Joyce, planted a tall red oak in Murtha’s memory and paid tribute to him. Pelosi was swarmed by reporters and cameramen as she left the event but said she had no comment and would issue a statement later in the day.
Shortly afterward, her office issued a statement in which Pelosi said that Weiner had “exercised poor judgment in his actions and poor judgment in his reaction to the revelations.”
“Today, he made the right judgment in resigning,” the statement continued. “I pray for him and his family and wish them well.”
Hours earlier, Pascrell, who like Weiner was elected in the mid-1990s, told reporters gathered outside the House chamber that Weiner could have avoided stepping down if he had just told the truth from the beginning instead of lying publicly about his actions for more than a week.
“The lesson is, first of all, tell the truth,” Pascrell told a scrum of more than a dozen reporters. “Because what would’ve happened if he didn’t lie? If he’d said, ‘I did some real stupid things,’ and if he told us, ‘Hey, guys, I did some real stupid things.’ ‘How stupid? What did you do?’ And we would’ve said, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty stupid, and you better do something about it now,’ and he told the truth of what he did and exposed the whole situation? So, somehow, he had the light that this could all pass by, and he’d see the sunset and the sunrise the next morning.”
“It ain’t gonna happen,” he added.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, also a New York Democrat, said that Weiner’s resignation represented a blow to his party in the House.
“Congressman Weiner was extremely bright, extremely intelligent, as you know, extremely articulate; he could articulate the issues very well and dramatize them,” Nadler said. “And any time you lose that kind of talent, of course it’s a loss.”
Nadler declined to say whether he thought Weiner made the right decision but said that the congressman had no choice in the end. “I think it was inevitable at this point, and he did what he had to do, and beyond that, there’s nothing to say other than there’s life after Congress, and I hope he does well,” he said.
There was also a sentiment among some lawmakers Thursday that the scandal had become a bigger fixation in Washington than beyond it.
“I did office hours all day Saturday in Massachusetts in a number of towns, and no one ever brought this up,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), another friend of Weiner’s. “So I think it’s a hot issue more inside the Beltway than it is outside. Obviously, it ends today.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who was among the first lawmakers earlier this month to call for Weiner’s resignation, reiterated Thursday that he believed Weiner made the right decision.
“I think it’s an unfortunate situation, and I’ve said I didn’t condone his actions, and I had said a while ago that I think he should step down,” Cantor told reporters as he left a news conference on job creation.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), also said Thursday afternoon that he was glad the Weiner saga was over.
“Certainly, for the first day or two it’s interesting; I guess there’s some political benefit to Republicans for a couple of days,” said King, who frequently wrangled with Weiner. “After that it hurts everybody, so it’s good that he’s leaving. He’s doing the right thing.”
Would King miss jousting with Weiner on the House floor?
“No, because — ah, yeah, maybe,” he responded.