Congressman Anthony Weiner announced his resignation from Congress on Thursday, over a series of lewd photos he sent to women online.
“I had hoped to be able to continue the work that the citizens of my district elected me to do, to fight for the middle class and those struggling to make it,” he said. “Unfortunately the distraction I have created has made that impossible, so today I am announcing my resignation from Congress so my colleagues can get back to work.”
The last few weeks were an embarrassing circus for the Congressman as more and more salacious details about his personal life emerged, from purported naked photos to alleged racy chat logs, and the lawmaker was besieged by reporters. His final press conference at a senior center in Brooklyn, was no different, featuring a mix of boos and cheers as he announced his decision and a prankster from the Howard Stern show screaming questions about his sexual prowess throughout.
Weiner’s decision followed an intense and highly public campaign among Democratic officials — from the White House down — to force his departure in the wake of the scandal. House caucus members had planned to discuss stripping of his committee assignments on Thursday before word of his resignation broke in the morning. Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), had also called on him to leave office and pressured Democrats to return his campaign donations.
Weiner had few prominent defenders by the end. President Obama told NBC that he would resign were he in Weiner’s shoes. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) repeatedly demanded he step down, dismissing attempts by Weiner to buy time with a leave of absence in which to seek treatment. Members frequently expressed frustration that Weiner’s ongoing scandal distracted from their policy agenda. The timing was particularly unfortunate as Democrats were finally gaining significant traction on their Medicare message, winning an upset race in New York’s 26th district with a campaign focused on the issue. In an illustration of how the issue dominated coverage, several TV networks cut away from a Nancy Pelosi press conference on jobs Thursday immediately after she said she would not address Weiner’s reported departure.
“Anthony’s decision to resign is right for him and his family, our party, and our country because we have serious work to do in Congress,” Steve Israel, chair of the DCCC, said in a statement after Weiner’s announcement. ” Last week Republican leaders introduced a bill to privatize Social Security, and the American people deserve an undistracted debate on it, Medicare, jobs, and other important issues.”
Despite his tough treatment by his colleagues in Washington, polls showed many of Weiner’s constituents open to keeping him in office. A number of senior attendees at his final press conference shouted their approval throughout his brief speech.
“Everybody has hangups,” Esther, 92, told TPM. “It’s a shame.”
She blamed the press for hounding him out of office: “They destroyed him.”
Weiner was widely speculated to run for mayor on New York City in 2013, perhaps even as the frontrunner, but the embarrassment of recent weeks as well as his deceptive failed attempt to cover up his behavior make his political future uncertain. Within Congress, he cultivated a reputation for his brash and biting speaking style, which he often employed to eviscerate Republican proposals in floor speeches and constant cable news appearances. He gained particular prominence during the health care debate, where he became one of the most visible advocates for a public health care option, a feature favored by progressive Democrats that was ultimately left out of the final legislation.
“It’s a tragedy,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said of his fellow New Yorker’s resignation. Calling his exit “inevitable,” Nadler told TPM that the party would nonetheless miss Weiner’s presence in the House.
“Congressman Weiner was extremely bright, extremely intelligent, he could articulate the issues very well and dramatize them,” he said. “Any time you lose that kind of talent it’s a loss.”
Weiner is the fourth New York Congressman to leave office after a personal scandal in the last four years. Republican Chris Lee stepped down in February after it was revealed he sent shirtless photos to a woman on Craigslist, Democrat Eric Massa resigned last year after allegations of sexual harassment, and Republican Vito Fossella did not seek re-election in 2008 after he phoned his mistress to bail him out of prison following a drunk driving arrest.
Late update: Here’s video of Weiner’s resignation announcement: