Analysis: Dem leaders struggle on Weiner's future
WASHINGTON So far, House Democratic leaders haven't publicly demanded Rep. Anthony Weiner resign after admitting he sent suggestive photos of himself in his underwear via Twitter and then lied about it to everyone within earshot.
But they've made it clear they'd appreciate it if he'd go away. And soon.
In statements within an hour of Weiner's stunning admission on Monday, not a single Democrat volunteered support for the man long mentioned as a possible future mayor of New York. And notably, none chose to comment on his defiant vow: "I am not resigning."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the party leader, said she was "disappointed and saddened." She and other Democrats called for an ethics committee investigation to determine whether Weiner had broken any House rules.
Other Democrats said they agreed.
Purely in political terms, violating House rules would be the least of the woes Weiner has inflicted on his party, currently trying to make the case that Republican policies fall harshly on female voters.
By his own admission, he behaved badly toward women, describing a series of sexually-infused exchanges via Twitter over the past three years.
"I have engaged in several inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, email and occasionally on the phone with women I had met online," he said at his news conference in New York.
"I've exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years," he added, although he quickly added he had not met any of the women or "had physical relationships at any time."
He apologized repeatedly and profusely to his wife, who was not in attendance.
Men behaving badly toward women hardly counts as news in the Capitol.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., resigned a few weeks ago to avoid having to testify under oath before the Senate ethics committee about a tangled affair. Among other findings, the panel reported he had once asked his mistress to marry him in a proposal made while the two were attending a National Prayer Breakfast.
But on health care and many other issues, Democrats are busy trying to build a case that women should turn Republicans out of office at the next election. Fitting Weiner's suggestive photos of himself, and his sexually-charged banter, into that theme is something they presumably would like to avoid.
The immediate precedent for Weiner's behavior in the House concerns former Rep. Chris Lee, a Republican who resigned in February after shirtless photos he sent to a woman he had met on Craigslist were published online.
Lee was gone virtually before his transgression became known publicly, shown the door by the Republican leadership.
Republicans have been careful to avoid injecting themselves into Weiner's predicament, preferring to let Democrats stew in it themselves. Eventually, the question of a double standard is all but certain to be suggested by GOP officials, if not by others.
Weiner's response to a question along those lines showed how difficult an answer might be. "Well, I don't want to get into anyone else's situation, but I can tell you about mine. And it's one that I — that I regret, that didn't have to do with my government service per se, and had to do with a personal weakness."
Nor are fellow Democrats in Congress likely to take it well that Weiner lied to them, as well as to his wife and the public.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., defended Weiner a week ago, based on the congressman's assurances that he had not been involved in the photo sent via Twitter.
A few hours after Weiner's news conference, Schumer said in a statement that Weiner "remains a talented and committed public servant, and I pray he and his family can get through these difficult times."
Schumer did not say whether Weiner should remain in Congress. But his spokesman, Brian Fallon, said the senator thinks "that should be up to his constituents to decide."
However much lying may be invoked as a betrayal of trust, it also raises questions about what other damaging information may not yet be known.
Weiner was asked about Andrew Breitbart, a conservative who had materialized before the news conference and implied he had an X-rated photo of the congressman.
"Can you say that is not true?" Weiner was asked.
"No, I cannot," he said.
EDITOR'S NOTE — David Espo is the chief congressional correspondent for The Associated Press.