“I wish there was some way I can defend him, but I can’t,” Reid said in a sentiment that echoed throughout Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, Republicans were flatly calling for Weiner to step down. “Congressman Weiner and his constituents will make that decision,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.). “I certainly don’t condone his activity, and I think he should resign.”
Weiner became more and more isolated as the fallout settled from his admission a day earlier that he had engaged in sexually explicit exchanges with women he met online. While the means by which he committed his transgressions represent a new frontier for Washington scandal, the questions and challenges ahead of him are as old as controversy itself. Scandals move quickly in the Internet era. Weathering them takes a combination of personal resolve, crisis-management skills and the right political circumstances.
Weiner could need all three to survive.
The New York Democrat has said he will not forfeit his seat, but that resolve is certain to be tested from a number of directions: a coming storm inside the Democratic caucus, whose members will be returning to Washington next week from a recess; political heat from Republicans; and a likely investigation by the House Ethics Committee into whether, among other things, he used government resources to conduct the seamy exchanges.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — who last week expressed confidence in Weiner — formally requested that investigation in a letter Tuesday to the ethics panel.
Weiner didn’t do himself any good when he assured House leaders last week that his Twitter account had been hacked and that he had not sent the suggestive picture that started the furor.
Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement indicating that his caucus has no appetite for defending Weiner — and suggesting, in none-too-subtle terms, that it wouldn’t be sorry to see him leave.
“Ultimately, Anthony and his constituents will make a judgment about his future,” Israel said, condemning Weiner’s “deep personal failure” in engaging in online sexual exchanges with at least six women over the past three years.
Meanwhile, the GOP’s campaign operation was looking for opportunities to taint other House Democrats by association with Weiner.
The National Republican Congressional Committee sent news releases calling on 16 Democrats who have taken contributions from Weiner to return the money. One of them, Rep. Betty Sutton (Ohio), announced that she would give $1,000 to local charities to rid herself of the amount she had received from Weiner’s political action committee.