Facing An Ethics Investigation, Rep. Wu Resigns

Originally published on July 26, 2011 5:46 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

As April Baer of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, congressman Wu's political nine lives appear to be over.

APRIL BAER: The Oregonian newspaper published a story several days ago detailing the allegations of a sexual assault last November by Wu. The story quoted several of Wu's aides. They said they heard a voicemail message at Wu's office, left by a distraught young woman. It turns out the woman is the daughter of a longtime friend of Wu's. Wu has said nothing about the incident. Neither the young woman or her family's attorney have commented, either. In today's statement announcing his resignation, Wu said he would leave office as soon as the debt-ceiling crisis has been resolved. House Democratic caucus leader John Larson says he talked to Wu. Wu told him he wants Oregon voters represented during an important debate on fiscal issues.

SIEGEL: He feels obligated that - knowing the gravity of that vote, and that there could be no one elected from Oregon in time to do that, that he would otherwise be doing a disservice to the people of Oregon.

BAER: Seven-term congressman David Wu landed hard in the headlines last winter. Anonymous staff reports told of emotional outbursts, and questioned his use of prescription drugs. An embarrassing camera phone picture showed Wu in a tiger suit. The sexual assault story, combined with the earlier allegations, have strained the patience of voters like Michael Chapman. Chapman voted for Wu, even volunteered a few hours over the years. Chapman works in mental health, and was willing to overlook early reports suggesting Wu was having emotional problems with a divorce and the death of a parent. But Chapman says these new allegations are just too much.

MICHAEL CHAPMAN: It just made me extremely angry, another abuse of power. I mean, it's just lack of respect for the position, lack of respect for voters. I really don't think that we should give him the benefit of doubt in this kind of situation.

BAER: Wu's resignation sets wheels in motion for a race that was already attracting interest. Oregon law calls for a special election to replace Wu. It's up to Governor John Kitzhaber to set the date. Like Wu, Kitzhaber is a Democrat. If the special election comes sooner rather than later, the parties will select their nominees with an internal vote, not a standard primary. Washington County Republican Party Chair Rachel Lucas says that scenario might favor candidates with more partisan views.

RACHEL LUCAS: You're nothing look at the same general demographic when you're looking at a general primary. It could add advantage to some candidates, and disadvantage to others.

BAER: Two Democratic state legislators had made prior announcements they intended to challenge Wu in next year's primary, but Wu's resignation doesn't necessarily mean the national Democratic and Republican parties will spend more time or money in Oregon's 1st District. Kyle Trygstad is a politics reporter at Roll Call. He says the parties have more pressing priorities in places like California, Texas and Florida next year, where incumbents face more competitive elections.

KYLE TRYGSTAD: If this district was going to be competitive, last year would have been the year. The national Republican wave, Republicans were winning by big margins all across the country. And David Wu, who by all accounts was scarce on the campaign trail, still won by 13 points over Rob Cornilles, a well-respected Republican.

BAER: Cornilles is one of several Republicans who say they're still considering whether to run for the nomination to replace Wu. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber is conferring with the secretary of state, and says he will announce the date for a special election soon. For NPR News, I'm April Baer in Portland, Oregon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.