By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 2010; A03
Conservative activists rallied Monday to the side of a liberal New York Democrat who had resigned from the House, after he charged that his party's leaders had conspired to oust him over his opposition to President Obama's health-care legislation.
Eric Massa's resignation Monday came after an ethics investigation into his conduct, and allegations of sexual harassment of staffers, became public. And his remarks on a Sunday radio show were only the latest in a series of explanations of why he was leaving the House.
Nevertheless, conservative blogs touted his accusations against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) as the latest evidence of Democrats' bare-knuckled political machinations to get a health-care bill to Obama's desk.
Conservatives have complained about other examples of what they see as illegitimate deal-making to secure votes: what they call the "Cornhusker Kickback" and the "Louisiana Purchase" in the Senate to line up Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), respectively, and Obama's appointment last week of a Utah professor -- the brother of Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), an opponent of the health bill -- to the federal appeals bench.
Massa's allegation that he was the victim of a setup, in order to lower the number of "yes" votes needed to pass a bill, fed into that growing anxiety about Democratic tactics.
His comments spread quickly online, promoted by conservative blogs such as Red State and National Review Online.
Rush Limbaugh devoted a segment of his Monday radio show to Massa, saying the lawmaker "warns us what we all know, but I think you need to hear it from a Democrat being forced out by Obama and Steny Hoyer and Pelosi." And the most popular conservative on television, Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck, announced that he will conduct an hour-long interview with the Democrat on Tuesday.
Official Republicans, meanwhile, remained mostly mum -- the office of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not release a statement on the matter, but aides encouraged reporters to tune in to Beck's show.
Hoyer's spokeswoman, Katie Grant, said Massa's claim was "completely false" and added: "There is zero merit to that accusation."
And Democrats pointed to Massa's own statements Friday, in which he said that he is fleeing Congress in an effort to avoid the ethics investigation. Such a probe, he said, "would tear my family and my staff apart."
Massa returned to his Corning, N.Y., home late last week. On Sunday, he took part in his final weekly appearance on a Hornell, N.Y., radio station and spent 90 minutes attacking Democrats, particularly Hoyer and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
"You have my apology and you have my resignation, because I'm a human being, but I will not go quietly into the evening. I will not be ashamed of my actions, other than the fact that I used inappropriate, verbal -- v-e-r-b-a-l -- language," he said. "And I was set up for this from the very, very beginning. If you think that somehow they didn't come after me to get rid of me because my vote is the deciding vote on the health-care bill, then, ladies and gentlemen, you live today in a world that is so innocent as to not understand what is going on in Washington, D.C."
Massa's departure leaves 431 members of the House, lowering the number of votes for a majority from 217 to 216.
The House will consider a Senate version of the health-care bill later this month, and if all lawmakers voted as they did in the November vote on health care, Democratic leaders would have precisely 216 votes. But dozens are considering switching their votes -- some from no to yes and others from yes to no -- making it impossible to determine whether Massa's vote would have been "deciding."
Massa also accused Hoyer of lying about his knowledge of the ethics investigation and said Emanuel was the "devil's spawn" who once confronted him naked in the shower of the House gym.
Massa also gave his first detailed description of what might have sparked the ethics investigation. At a staffer's New Year's Eve wedding, he engaged in sexually charged banter with male staffers about the bridesmaids, and a junior aide suggested the lawmaker make a pass at one woman, Massa said. He added that he responded: "What I really ought to be doing is fracking you. And then [I] tousled the guy's hair and left, went to my room, because I knew the party was getting to a point where it wasn't right for me to be there."
Massa denied on the radio show that he is gay. "Ask my wife -- I think she can answer that question," he said.