4:11am

Wed June 8, 2011
Politics

Democrats Ponder Should Rep. Weiner Stay Or Go?

Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York says he will not resign from his House seat.

Weiner admitted this week that he had inappropriate exchanges with women online — exchanges that included tweeting a lewd picture of himself.

Weiner isn't the first member of Congress to be caught up in a scandal.

Test your memory by recalling who said: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

And then later said: "Indeed I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong."

The answer is Bill Clinton. The former president — a Democrat — stayed in office after he admitted to the affair, though Republicans did try to oust him.

Next, who said: "There are blogs who are saying that I'm leaving because there were charges of harassment against my staff."

Don't know that one? Here's a clue: tickle fights.

It was New York Democrat Eric Massa, who claimed he was resigning because he had cancer. Leaving the House also got him out of an ethics investigation.

Now give this one a try: "I want to again offer my deep sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past."

This one is especially notable because the lawmaker talking is still in the U.S. Senate. Republican David Vitter of Louisiana was caught up in a Washington, D.C. prostitution ring in 2007. Vitter apologized, and when he ran for re-election last fall, he won by a wide margin.

There are many more examples of Washington sex scandals — just look on Wikipedia, the list goes back to 1796.

Weiner says his actions are completely separate from his official duties and shouldn't taint his work in Congress.

But was what Weiner did, illegal?

"I don't see yet what the legal issue is for him," says Stan Brand, an attorney who has defended many lawmakers before the House and Senate ethics committees.

It's not illegal to flirt, Brand says, and it's not illegal to lie to the press. That happens all the time. Also, there are no congressional rules for how to act online.

Still, Democratic leaders have to decide whether to ask Weiner to resign and get the lewd photo scandal out of the spotlight, or let him stay.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi requested an ethics investigation to find out if Weiner used any government resources or broke any rules in his digital dalliances.

When asked about the issues on Tuesday, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid responded: "I know Congressman Weiner. I wish there was some way I can defend him but I can't."

What may make it so hard for Democrats to call for his resignation is that Weiner has been such an effective communicator for their causes. He's a bulldog.

Last summer, he took the floor in response to GOP foot-dragging on a bill to pay for health coverage for Sept. 11th responders.

"It's Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes," Weiner said. "It is a shame, a shame."

Several high profile Republicans have called for Weiner's resignation, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

And Democrats have to consider, when it comes to being an asset, are Weiner's political skills canceled out by the scandal.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.