Anthony Weiner scandal: Is anything in Congress private anymore?
Rep. Anthony Weiner finally acceded to demands that he resign because of his 'sexting' scandal. The incident further opens private lives in Congress to public scrutiny.
That‚Äôs the view of many of his former colleagues, speaking Thursday just off the House floor. ‚ÄúHad he come out straight forward in the very beginning, he would have seen less of, ‚ÄėYou‚Äôve got to go,‚Äô ‚ÄĚ says Rep. Bill Pascrell (D) of New Jersey. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre all human here.‚ÄĚ
Still, the speed and intensity of Congressman Weiner‚Äôs fall raises new questions on the line between public and private behavior that some members and ethics watchdogs find troubling.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs now very little distinction between public and private life, and I think politicians should know that,‚ÄĚ says Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The Weiner case ‚Äúsets a dangerous precedent,‚ÄĚ she adds. ‚ÄúThere are still members of Congress engaged in sexual improprieties. The second you‚Äôre involved in one, are you out?‚ÄĚ she adds.
The message from the Weiner debacle appears to be that you resign if you create too many problems for your colleagues. ‚ÄúIf something becomes a scandal, and leaders believe it‚Äôs a distraction from their message, that‚Äôs what‚Äôs going to get a call for a resignation."
After nearly three weeks of media frenzy, House Democratic leaders lost patience as the scandal drowned out their assault on the new GOP majority over jobs, the economy, and proposed cuts to Medicare.
Asked to distinguish between lies and sex scandals involving Weiner and former President Clinton, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida, the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, said that Weiner should resign because his conduct ‚Äúhas distracted [from] his ability to do his job and distracted from almost all of our ability to do our jobs and make sure that we can effectively serve our constituents.‚ÄĚ
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who called for Weiner‚Äôs resignation last week, had scheduled a caucus meeting on Thursday to strip the seven-term lawmaker of his committee assignments.
‚ÄúCongressman Weiner exercised poor judgment in his actions and poor judgment in his reaction to the revelations. Today, he made the right judgment in resigning,‚ÄĚ she said in a statement after the resignation.
In earlier eras, sex scandals on Capitol Hill were widely known in the Washington press corps, but rarely reported. Even if reported, they often had little consequence. In part, the heightened scrutiny of the private lives of public figures reflects a change in public standards. It also reflects more diversity among members of Congress and the press corps that covers them.
‚ÄúThe press corps was predominantly male until the 1980s, and men looked the other way,‚ÄĚ says Gene Grabowski, senior vice president and manager of the Crisis and Litigation Practice Group for Levick Strategic Communications in Washington. ‚ÄúThere was as much going on then, but now it‚Äôs found out.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe sensibilities have changed. More women are in positions of power and more women are in positions of influence in the press,‚ÄĚ he adds.
There were 17 women House members when Ways and Means chairman Wilbur Mills and stripper Fanny Foxe made sensational headlines in 1974, but he was not pressed by his colleagues to resign. Today, there are 75 women in the House, 51 in the Democratic caucus, many in leadership positions, Congresswomen Pelosi and Wasserman Schultz among them.
Women in the Democratic caucus were among Weiner‚Äôs most outspoken, early critics. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) of Pennsylvania was the first to call for his resignation, citing his ‚Äúoffensive behavior online.‚ÄĚ
On Thursday, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D) of New York echoed the sentiment that Weiner made things worse for himself.
‚ÄúIf Anthony hadn‚Äôt lied in the beginning, it would have been OK,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúThe culture has changed because of a 24-hour news cycle. It makes everything here a little more sensitive and paints a bad picture of all of us.‚ÄĚ
Beyond the TV news cycle, sex scandals over the Internet have an immediacy that creates new problems for politicians trying to escape them, says Mr. Grabowski, whose firm has represented members of Congress involved in sex scandals.
‚ÄúThe Internet has been a marvelous tool for messaging, but it‚Äôs a tool your adversaries can use against you,‚ÄĚ he adds. ‚ÄúIt can trip you up if what you think is private isn‚Äôt. Weiner used the Internet to great advantage for his political career, and it proved to be his undoing. You‚Äôre going to see more of that.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe whole thing is very sad. It‚Äôs a tragedy,‚ÄĚ says Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) of New York, speaking outside the House chamber as Weiner was resigning. As for lessons from the scandal for members of Congress, he said: ‚ÄúI hope they‚Äôre tweeting a little more carefully.‚ÄĚ