Weiner’s friends, though ‘appalled’ by his behavior, remain by his side

June 14, 2011

There were more calls for Rep. Anthony Weiner to resign on Tuesday, including one from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), after a not-so-subtle nudge from President Obama on Monday.

But Weiner (D-N.Y.) also received a measure of support from a small cadre of his closest friends on Capitol Hill, many of whom said they are disgusted by the congressman’s actions but nevertheless willing to stand by him.

Reflecting on the controversy, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) wearily sighed Tuesday evening while gazing out a window overlooking the Capitol’s south lawn. “I just think it was reprehensible,” Pascrell, 74, said of Weiner’s behavior. “He thinks the same thing, so I’m not breaking the news.”

Still, he added: “I have yet to find anything . . . that may touch upon the breaking of the House rules. If I did — if I did — I would immediately ask for his resignation. But right now, I’m more concerned about his health and the health of his family, and that’s what friends are for.”

Friendship is not something that has often found its way into the narrative of the Weiner imbroglio, which is entering its third frenzied week. Yet, despite the stream of resignation calls from prominent Democrats and Republicans, and notwithstanding the fact that Weiner, 46, is often described as something of a loner, the New York Democrat retains a core group of about 10 House members who are supporting their friend even as they condemn his behavior.

Their support stands in stark contrast to the push for Weiner’s resignation by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the calls to step down from leading House Republicans. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has urged him to quit and, if he refuses, for Democrats to revoke his committee assignments.

There was no unanimous statement by Democratic leaders after a closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday. Fellow New York Rep. Carolyn McCarthy suggested before the session that Weiner “might resign in a couple days.”

House Democratic Caucus Chair John B. Larson (Conn.), another Weiner friend, said that Weiner’s House allies don’t defend his conduct but still empathize with their embattled colleague.

“It’s the question of, in the midst of a reprehensible act, is there still any human feeling left in the place?” Larson said Monday. “I think that’s what tears people asunder.”

Larson added that Weiner’s friends “before will probably be his friends afterwards,” despite agreement that his actions were an “absolute reprehensible, stupid, creepy thing to do.”

“The crushing thing is what’s happening,” Larson added. “Most of our guys would say, ‘Hey look, there’s a circus about this.’ And seeing one of your friends — by his own acts, mind you — but just being destroyed in front of your eyes, who wants to go through that?

“And then,” Larson added, “he’s seeking help, which is the right thing.”

Among the House Democrats backing Weiner are Larson, Pascrell and Reps. Michael E. Capuano (Mass.), Mike Doyle (Pa.), Robert A. Brady (Pa.) and Tim Holden (Pa.); other friends include former congressmen Ron Klink (D-Pa.), Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and John E. Baldacci (D-Maine).

For these supporters, mostly liberal northeastern Democrats from outside the New York delegation, their bond with Weiner is based more on tenure than on regional affinity. Weiner, Larson and Capuano (Weiner’s Capitol Hill roommate for nearly a decade) were all members of the 1998 freshman class, while the others were elected a few years apart in the mid-1990s.

Many of them serve as the foundation of the congressional Democrats’ baseball team; Doyle is manager of the group, while Pascrell is his top assistant. (“I’ve been playing baseball, but now I’m the hitting coach, because they think I’m going to get hurt out there,” Pascrell said.)

“He’s the ultimate buster of other people, he is,” Pascrell said of Weiner on the baseball field. “He knows how far he can push you. If you don’t have a good sense of humor, you’re going to get pissed off at him. If you do have a good sense of humor, then you give it right back. Not unlike life, and that’s the way it is.”

In the House, Weiner and his allies were loyal to Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a close ally of Pelosi’s who, before his death last year, used to sit in a spot on the far side of the House chamber known as Pennsylvania Corner, an area frequented by Weiner and his friends.

The Murtha alliance didn’t translate into automatic support for Pelosi, however, and after their party’s sweeping losses in the 2010 midterms, Capuano and Pascrell were two of the more outspoken critics of the California Democrat’s bid to retain her position as party leader, aiding an effort by Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) to postpone the leadership elections.

In late 2001, Weiner’s group of friends found itself under the microscope in a Vanity Fair expose on the lives of young female Capitol Hill staffers and interns. Toward the end of the piece, the young women profiled run into Weiner and his friends at the Capital Grille the Thursday after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and are invited to join the lawmakers for a few rounds of song and drink. Weiner then followed up with one of the women via e-mail.

After some of the most embarrassing photos of Weiner to date surfaced two days ago on TMZ.com, the Democrat’s friends did what they could to help as Weiner began a leave of absence from the House. Capuano submitted Weiner’s two-week leave request, which the House approved unanimously. Capuano, Larson, Pascrell and other friends huddled on the Democratic side of the House chamber, as they often do during votes.

Looking out at the sunset Tuesday evening, Pascrell, who said Weiner called him last week to apologize for his behavior, reflected on his friend’s outsize personality and his penchant for headline-making.

“What possessed him to do these things?” Pascrell asked. “Even what we do know, the pictures — I mean, that’s total insanity. It’s almost like you’re pushing to get someone to stop you from doing what you’re doing, because it was so obvious.”

“Tony is a character, there’s no two ways about it,” Pascrell said. “We all have egos. . . . He was a lot of theater.”

“Now, can Tony get his act together?” Pascrell asked. “Can Tony clear up the problems he must have in his personal life? I can’t answer that question. I hope he does, for his family’s sake and his sake. And I pray for him. Right now, that’s the best I can do.”

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