Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) says he will resign after report of sexual ‘encounter’

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Rep. David Wu as the first Chinese American member of Congress. Wu, who took office in 1999, was the first Chinese American in the House, but Hiram Fong (R-Hawaii), who served from 1959 to 1977, preceded him in the Senate. This version has been corrected.

Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) announced Tuesday that he will resign from Congress, four days after a report that a young woman called his office complaining of an “unwanted sexual encounter” with the congressman.

“I cannot care for my family the way I wish while serving in Congress and fighting these very serious allegations,” Wu said in a statement. “The well-being of my children must come before anything else.

“This is the right decision for my family, the institution of the House, and my colleagues.”

The congressman, who said he will formally resign at the conclusion of the debt-limit debate, had said Monday that he would not seek reelection next year. But congressional leaders had called for an ethics investigation, and both of his home state’s Democratic senators on Tuesday morning called for his resignation.

Wu becomes the latest member of Congress to resign amid a burgeoning sex scandal — this year, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) have stepped down.

Wu is separated from his wife and is seeking a divorce, but the nature of the reported sexual encounter with the teenage daughter of one of Wu’s friends made things particularly difficult for the congressman. Congressional leaders gave him a few days to sort things out, but in the end, facing an ethics investigation and a potentially drawn-out public drama, he opted to leave Congress.

Wu had previously been accused of erratic behavior toward the end of the 2010 campaign, and he later admitted to taking unprescribed medication and sending unprofessional pictures of himself to his staff, including one of himself in a tiger costume.

The incident in question, which Wu told his staff was consensual, involved a recent high school graduate and occurred three weeks after Election Day, according to the Portland Oregonian.

The Oregonian reported late Friday that Wu’s office received the call this spring from the young woman, who was reportedly distraught. The paper has not identified the woman and says she has not filed charges with the police.

The report came after previous revelations about unwanted sexual advances that Wu made in college in the 1970s. In 2004, the Oregonian newspaper reported that Wu was disciplined by Stanford University after a woman accused him of trying to force her to have sex with him. Following the report, Wu apologized.

Democratic leaders had counseled Wu on the path forward, and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) early Tuesday urged him to resign.

In response to the news, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said Wu’s resignation “is the right decision” and expressed confidence that his party would hold the seat.

Oregon election law requires Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) to call a special election for the seat. The next regularly scheduled election in Oregon is May 15, 2012, more than nine months away.

Currently running for the seat are state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian (D) and state Rep. Brad Witt (D), and state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D) is expected to join them. Republicans who could run include 2010 nominee Rob Cornilles, businessman Rob Miller and several state legislators.

A special election would appear to help Republicans, but the seat leans Democratic, and Avakian and Bonamici are viewed as particularly strong potential nominees.

“The electoral system might be beneficial to Republicans, but you’re upgrading the quality of the candidate from the Democratic side,” said Democratic consultant Jim Ross.

Wu, first elected in 1998, was the first Chinese American member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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