WASHINGTON — Rep. Joe Courtney says he first realized at a Medicare town-hall meeting in Norwich exactly how big a problem Rep. Anthony Weiner’s salacious conduct on Twitter was going to be for House Democrats. The first question he fielded was about Weiner, not Medicare.
“To me, that’s sort of is Exhibit A of what the problem is here,” said Courtney, a Democrat who represents the 2nd District in eastern Connecticut. “It’s such an unfortunate distraction.”
So, Courtney joined the growing number of Democrats calling on Weiner to resign Monday. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, made the same call earlier in the day, becoming the first member of the Connecticut delegation to do so.
“It’s time to say good-bye,” said Courtney, who added that he believed his position was implicit in his announcement last week that he would give to charity a $1,000 campaign donation Weiner made to his campaign in 2007.
As House members flooded back into Washington on Monday, questions about Weiner, a New York Democrat who admitted to sending lewd photos and text messages to women online, were still Topic A in the Capitol.
Should he resign? Should there be a full-fledged ethics inquiry? Should campaign donations from Weiner be given back or donated to charity?
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, who had been relatively quiet on the Weiner scandal, said no, albeit indirectly, when asked Monday if Weiner should relinquish his House seat.
“Those decisions ultimately are left to his constituents,” Larson said as he left a leadership meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Over the weekend, Pelosi, among other Democratic leaders, called for Weiner’s resignation.
Weiner has so far resisted that pressure. Even as more photographs of a half-naked Weiner surfaced over the weekend, the New York Democrat said he would seek professional help, but not resign.
But the drumbeat continued to play.
On Monday morning, Himes became the first among Connecticut’s five-member, all-Democratic House delegation to call on Weiner to resign.
Himes also said he would donate $2,000 in campaign donations from Weiner–$1,000 in 2008 and $1,000 in 2010–to a charity in Stamford. It’s part of what has become a new Washington ritual for politicians wishing to distance themselves from a floundering colleague.
“The question of when do you give the money back and when do you call for someone’s resignation, those are tough questions,” Himes said. “Where do you draw the line?…. I’m not set up to be a judge and to draw these distinctions.”
Reps. Rosa DeLauro of the 3rd District and Chris Murphy of the 5th have called for an ethics inquiry but stopped short of urging Weiner to leave the House. Murphy and DeLauro haven’t gotten money from Weiner, so they’ve escaped knotty questions about whether to dump old campaign cash.
Last week, Himes declined to say definitively whether he would give the money back, and the National Republican Campaign Committee hammered him as a result.
“Himes is part of a small and shrinking list of people who continue to stand by Rep. Weiner. What exactly does he need to think about?” the NRCC said in an email blast. After Himes today called for Weiner’s resignation and said he’d give the money back, the NRCC said he’d “caved” to Republican pressure.
“Honestly, when you finally make a decision–particularly if you make the decision I did–as much as anything else you’re trying to put a lid on a deeply political and dishonest discussion,” Himes said. “The NRCC, which made a big deal of this, did they give Chris Lee’s dues back? No.”
Himes was referring to ex-Rep. Chris Lee, a New York Republican, resigned earlier this year after he sent a shirtless photograph of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist. The NRCC “dues” are contributions that almost all House members, like Lee and Himes, pay to their respective party campaign committees to help elect or defend their colleagues in the next election.
Courtney said he understands the guilt-by-association questions lawmakers are subjected to in the wake of a scandal implicating one of their colleagues. “It’s somewhat of a legacy of 2006, with Tom DeLay,” Courtney said, referring to the former House Republican House Majority Leader who was forced to resign in 2005, after he was charged in a criminal money laundering case.
“I was calling on my opponent at that time to disgorge funds” from DeLay, Courtney said. “So fair is fair. When there’s issues like this that come up that are egregious, I feel like I’ve got to live by my own standard.”
But he said it’s still tough to call for another lawmaker’s resignation, even if it helps quiet questions from reporters intent on asking about political scandals, rather than policy issues.
Himes said for him it was just a gut decision — and an uncomfortable one at that.
“I just reached a conclusion that it had become both a distracting circus, as well as something he clearly has to deal with personally,” he said. “I feel badly for his family and his supporters, and I feel badly for him as well. He’s a talented guy who made some really critical errors.”