Rep. Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who has been under scrutiny for alleged inappropriate behavior with a longtime female aide that resulted in a congressional payout, said Thursday that he will not seek reelection.
“Unfortunately, recent events concerning my office and the settlement of certain harassment allegations have become a major distraction,” he wrote in a letter to his campaign chairman that was obtained by The Washington Post. “I need to own it because it is my own conduct that fueled the matter. … It is clear to me, that under the current conditions, any campaign I would run would not be decided over vital issues but would likely devolve into an ugly spectacle of harsh rhetoric. I do not believe that is in the best interest of the constituents I represent.”
Meehan’s behavior was first disclosed Saturday in a New York Times report that described Meehan as having confessed romantic feelings for an unnamed, much younger female subordinate after he learned she had become involved in a serious relationship with another man. The paper reported that Meehan became hostile toward the woman when she did not respond to his entreaties. The woman left Meehan’s office and was paid a sum that has been described as settlement for wrongdoing.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately removed Meehan from his seat on the House Ethics Committee.
Meehan, 62, denied the allegations of misbehavior and characterized the payment as “severance” for a veteran employee. He requested the House Ethics Committee investigate the matter and said he would reimburse taxpayers if wrongdoing was found.
But public furor was further stoked this week when Meehan gave a fumbling explanation for his behavior in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, referring to the aide as a “soul mate.”
In his letter, Meehan said he regretted using that word.
“I truly didn’t even consider or understand the full implications of the use of that term,” he wrote. “Quite simply to me a soul-mate means a uniquely close person who is joined with you on a daily basis, in which you both share the routine successes and strains of a work day. In no way did I intend that the use of that term would suggest a romantic partnership.”
Meehan’s retirement was first reported Thursday by the Inquirer. The National Republican Congressional Committee confirmed the news in a statement Thursday evening.
“While I’m disappointed by the circumstances leading to Congressman Meehan’s retirement, I thank him for his dedication to his district. We must always hold ourselves to the highest possible standard — especially while serving in Congress,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the NRCC’s chairman.
Meehan is a former state and federal prosecutor who holds a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee, where he helped write the recent Republican tax bill. His decision to retire will come as a relief to Republican strategists, who questioned whether Republicans would have any chance to hold the suburban 7th Congressional District with a politically wounded candidate. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the district in the 2016 presidential election by 2 points.
Whether Meehan’s sprawling district will even survive intact is in serious question after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state’s GOP-drawn congressional map this month, ordering new lines to be drawn on a less partisan basis.
Meehan is the seventh member of the 115th Congress to retire or resign because of misconduct allegations. He joins Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) and Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), as well as former Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn).
The spate of misconduct allegations has begun to weigh on other lawmakers, who are facing questions from constituents about not only the allegations, but the taxpayer money that has been allegedly paid to settle them.
At a town hall meeting Thursday morning in Omro, Wis., GOP Rep. Glenn Grothman told a constituent who asked about the reports of misbehavior that he thought Meehan should step away from Congress.
“Hopefully, he will be headed out really quickly,” he said. “You can’t force him out, but I know Paul Ryan stripped him of one of his committees, and so hopefully he’s on the way out.”
Meehan’s full letter, as provided by a person close to Meehan:
January 25, 2018
After consultation with my wife Carolyn and with my three sons, and after prayerful reflection, I write to inform you that I will not seek re-election to the United States Congress for the 7th Congressional District in 2018. Today I communicated the same to the office of Speaker Paul Ryan.
During my service, I have learned that representation of our district’s people in Congress requires a fierce focus on problems we face and a strong voice to be fighting for solutions. I will continue to do that, whether it is protecting worker’s jobs at local refineries, fighting to get health screenings for constituents exposed to polluted groundwater, or assuring that local farmers have the workers they need to compete globally. I intend to keep fighting for my constituents until the end of my term.
Elections have consequences and it is likely more true today than ever before. That is why elections must allow for a vigorous debate over the policies and proposed solutions that address the great challenges we face as individuals, as a region, and as Americans in a complex and frequently dangerous world. There is much at stake. Moreover, the representation of a region like ours requires judgment, heartfelt empathy, and political courage. Too much of Congress has retreated into partisan corners with angry rhetoric stifling the call for smart and reasonable compromise. I have sought in each vote I take to assure that I am striking that correct balance. I strive to do what is right for our region. That is why I stood up against my party when I felt its’ proposed law on health care was leaving some struggling sick behind. I stood with my party on tax reform when I thought hard working families from our region would benefit from an economy that produces more family sustaining jobs.
Further, the tax bill is a concrete example of why it is so valuable to be “in-the-room” when delicate negotiations on significant legislation are taking place. That is why having worked my way into a critical seat on the House Ways and Means Committee has been important for our region.
Unfortunately, recent events concerning my office and the settlement of certain harassment allegations have become a major distraction. I need to own it because it is my own conduct that fueled the matter. I have self reported the events and settlement to the House Committee on Ethics for their consideration and I tendered my own resignation from the Committee so that there would not be any question raised about their deliberations. That is why I have also stated that if the Ethics Committee concludes I have engaged in sexual harassment that I am prepared to repay the full amount of the severance that was paid to the employee.
It is clear to me, that under the current conditions, any campaign I would run would not be decided over vital issues but would likely devolve into an ugly spectacle of harsh rhetoric. I do not believe that is in the best interest of the constituents I represent.
The recent narrative surrounding the close workplace relationship I shared with a former employee has spun wildly out of perspective. Moreover, recent attempts I have made to answer the questions of local print, radio and television media about the matter have only complicated that communication.
I am a happily married man to an accomplished and supportive wife to whom I have never been unfaithful and I had no interest in doing so. That is why characterizations of a romantic interest in a co-worker are not only unfair, they are wrong.
I know from the many supportive comments I have received from friends, that I am not alone in a world where a married spouse also has an especially close and interactive daily work relationship with another person of the opposite sex. I also know that, like in a marriage, the shared work experience can create a bond that is strong and that can operate on multiple levels. I know that the accomplishments and stresses of daily interaction in a workplace can forge an emotional connection that has its own identity. I also know that such connections can lead to a caring interest in the life of the other person that extends beyond the purely professional experiences they share. That does not mean that either partner would deem this connection to be a romantic one.
In an effort to be honest and accountable to the constituents I represent, I recently spoke to reporters to give straight answers to very difficult and probing questions. No characterization of the work relationship I shared with a uniquely close colleague could have been more personally harmful than when I described that co-worker as a “soul-mate.” I truly didn’t even consider or understand the full implications of the use of that term. Quite simply to me a soul-mate means a uniquely close person who is joined with you on a daily basis, in which you both share the routine successes and strains of a work day.
In no way did I intend that the use of that term would suggest a romantic partnership. It is human to connect with someone who has the same work perspective and is invested in achieving the same work goals. After spending a lengthy amount of time together it is also natural that the connection will be one of a caring attitude toward each other.
Similarly, I take umbrage in the fact that newspaper reports, citing unnamed witnesses, could have any capacity to characterize any sentiment or emotion that I might have been feeling as jealousy toward another person in my co-worker’s life. There is simply no foundation for that conclusion and reporting it as so is biased.
I felt then, and I still feel despite the current controversy, that I was blessed to work closely for nearly eight years with a person I admired and respect. While we shared a natural rapport, I did not unnaturally inquire about things in her personal life. Hearsay accounts that I furtively asked others about her life away from the office are simply untrue. When I became aware, through office conversation, that the aide was planning to move abroad and marry someone she had only known for a short while, I knew it would mean the termination of the long professional relationship we shared.
I am talking with and listening to friends and professionals about power dynamics in an office setting and I am not trying to evade responsibility when something crosses the line. Most importantly, I must acknowledge that it is not how I feel about a conversation but to appreciate how that conversation can put another person in an uncomfortable place. I do believe there are legitimate questions of proportionality in the emerging dialogue over workplace harassment and that I acted, at all times, within the appropriate boundaries of the close relationship I shared with the former employee.
Patrick L. Meehan,
Member of Congress Pa-07