Weiner planning leave of absence for treatment

June 11, 2011

Top leaders in the Democratic Party called on embattled Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to resign Saturday even as the scandal-tarred congressman announced he would request a leave of absence from the House to seek an unspecified form of treatment.

Weiner spokeswoman Risa Heller said Saturday afternoon that the congressman “departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.” She added that he would request “a short leave of absence from the House,” after which he would make a decision on his political future. Heller did not return an e-mail regarding what sort of treatment Weiner would undergo.

Senior Democratic House aides said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) had a series of conversations with Weiner last week in which she urged him to resign. After Weiner called Pelosi to say he planned to take a leave of absence, the party leadership issued a coordinated public call for his resignation. “Congressman Weiner has the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents, and the recognition that he needs help,” Pelosi said. “I urge Congressman Weiner to seek that help without the pressures of being a Member of Congress.”

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) said, “The behavior he has exhibited is indefensible and Representative Weiner’s continued service in Congress is untenable.”

In the nearly unanimous calls for Weiner’s resignation, Assistant House Minority Leader James E. Clyburn (S.C.) offered a discordant note: “I stand by my comments from last week that the full Caucus should address this issue when we meet next,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has not joined in the resignation calls. In a statement Saturday, Schumer described himself as “heartbroken” and said, “It’s clear he needs professional help and I am glad he is seeking it.”

Weiner, who has acknowledged “inappropriate” online conduct with at least six women, has previously insisted he had no plans to resign. The Weiner saga began two weeks ago when the congressman accidentally published a picture of his underwear-clad groin on his personal Twitter feed that he meant to send only to a college student in Seattle. After denying that he sent the picture, Weiner admitted in a New York City news conference that he had done so and that the lewd image in question was of him.

A leave of absence, which is not an official designation and would allow Weiner to not only remain a member of the House but to continue receiving his congressional salary, seems designed to buy the New York Democrat some time as he ponders his political future.

It’s also not without precedent. In 2002, then-Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) took an unexplained two-week leave; in 2009, Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan (R) took a month-long leave to enter the Betty Ford Center for treatment of alcoholism.

Weiner’s decision to stay in office despite the urgings of his party leadership was not greeted warmly. “That is unacceptable,” said one senior Democratic Party official. “The die is cast. He needs to move on.”

The calls for Weiner’s resignation, which landed within minutes of one another on Saturday, were the result of a several-day process aimed at ending the political problem Weiner had created.

On Thursday, Democratic officials began talks about the possibility of calling for Weiner to step aside. A Saturday morning deadline was decided on; if Weiner had not resigned by then, the leadership of the party would call on him to do so in a coordinated fashion.

The deadline was a function of the inevitable questions about resignations that were sure to be posed to Democratic officials on Sunday talk shows and the fact that the House was returning from a recess on Monday.

Also, late Friday came a report that police were looking into Weiner’s online contact with a 17-year-old girl in Delaware — his office has acknowledged the correspondence but has said it was entirely innocuous — that further complicated the congressman’s chances of holding on to his seat. Party officials insist the decision to call on Weiner to resign had been made before the story breaking in Delaware.

A senior House Democratic aide said the Weiner saga had functioned as a huge distraction for the party. “For two weeks we’ve only talked about Anthony Weiner,” the source said. “We haven’t talked about Medicare. We haven’t talked about creating jobs.”

If Weiner does resign, the duty of calling a special election to replace him would fall to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Democrats would be favored in any special-election scenario.

Staff writers Paul Kane, Felicia Sonmez and Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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