Bloomberg News

Obama Comments Add to Pressure on Weiner to Quit House Seat

June 14, 2011

(Updates with Pelosi, Levin comments starting in 14th paragraph.)

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- Pressure on U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner to resign escalated as President Barack Obama called his behavior “highly inappropriate” and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi prodded the New York Democrat to heed the president’s advice to leave office.

Weiner, who last week acknowledged sending lewd photos of himself and suggestive messages to women online, was granted a two-week leave of absence by the House last night. He had said through a spokeswoman on June 11 that he was seeking “professional treatment” and would request a leave.

“I can tell you that if that was me, I would resign,” Obama said of Weiner in an interview with NBC News. “When you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively, then you should probably step back.” The Obama interview was broadcast this morning on NBC’s “Today” program.

The president’s comments are his first public ones on the scandal since June 6, when Weiner at a news conference in New York apologized for making “terrible mistakes.”

Since then, several Democratic House leaders have called for Weiner’s resignation, including Pelosi. Speaking to reporters at the Capitol after Obama’s comments were publicized yesterday, Pelosi said she hopes that “Congressman Weiner will hear this, know that it is in his best interest for him to leave Congress.”

Boehner Comments

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters today he believed Weiner should resign. He didn’t respond when asked whether he would take any action to encourage him to quit.

White House press secretary Jay Carney yesterday called Weiner’s actions “inappropriate,” while refusing to say whether Obama would join the calls for him to resign.

“We feel at the White House this is a distraction,” Carney told reporters traveling with the president to an event in North Carolina.

Pelosi in her comments last night also responded to a call by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, earlier in the day for Democratic leaders to take actions against Weiner if he doesn’t resign, “perhaps stripping him” of his committee assignment. Weiner serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the telecommunications and health-care industries.

Committee Assignments

“This is beyond committee assignments,” said Pelosi. “If we are asking him to leave, we are certainly not welcoming” him “here with committee assignments.”

She disputed Cantor’s suggestion that Democrats needed to do more to pressure Weiner.

“None of us, not anybody here, has the power to force somebody out of office,” she said. “That person has to decide himself as to whether he will stay or he will go.”

Representative Robert Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, said there was no discussion today during a private meeting of the party’s House members of whether to strip Weiner of his caucus membership or committee assignment.

As she left the caucus today, Pelosi told reporters she detailed for her fellow Democrats “why I came to the conclusion” that “Congressman Weiner should resign.”

‘Higher Responsibility’

Weiner’s party colleagues feel both “concern for the rights of the individual member” and a “higher responsibility to our country to uphold a high ethical standard in the Congress,” Pelosi said.

Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said there was no need for the caucus to impose sanctions against Weiner.

“We should send a strong message to him that he should resign and see what happens,” Levin said. “The more of us who say it, the more telling it will be.”

House members returned to Washington yesterday from a week- long recess during which Weiner at the New York news conference acknowledged sending the inappropriate messages and photos via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. He said he wouldn’t resign his House seat, which he first won in 1998.

Lie About Hacker

Weiner also acknowledged previously lying by telling reporters he had been the victim of a hacker’s prank.

“This is bizarre, unacceptable behavior,” House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said yesterday of Weiner’s actions on the CBS “Face the Nation” program. “It seems to me extraordinarily difficult that he can proceed to represent his constituents in an effective way given the circumstances.”

Hoyer said he hoped Weiner would “reflect upon whether or not he can effectively proceed. I don’t see how he can, and I hope he would make that judgment.”

Weiner, 46, sought the leave of absence from the House “so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well,” his publicist, Risa Heller, said in an e- mailed statement on June 11. Weiner is seeking “to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person,” Heller said.

Weiner, who is married to Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “takes the views of his colleagues very seriously and has determined that he needs this time to get healthy and make the best decision possible for himself, his family and his constituents,” Heller said in the statement.

Pelosi, of California, called for a House ethics investigation the day of Weiner’s news conference. She made her call for Weiner’s resignation after she learned the lawmaker would seek the leave of absence, according to a Pelosi aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pelosi issued a June 11 statement saying Weiner “has the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents, and the recognition that he needs help.” She urged him “to seek that help without the pressures of being a member of Congress.”

--With assistance from Nicholas Johnston, Lisa Lerer, Joshua Zumbrun and Julianna Goldman in Washington and Ben Richardson in Hong Kong. Editors: Don Frederick, Laurie Asseo.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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