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June 17 (Bloomberg) -- Anthony Weiner’s decision to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives following revelations that he had sent lewd photos of himself to women over the Internet lifts a distraction that has muddled the political message of House Democrats.
His departure will help Democrats focus on the Republican proposal to privatize Medicare, the government health-care program for older Americans, and the talks over increasing the government’s borrowing authority, according to one of the party’s House leaders.
“Our ability to communicate on motivational issues” such as the Republican plan for “the end of Medicare has been impaired by Mr. Weiner’s behavior,” Representative Steve Israel, who heads the House Democrats’ campaign effort, told reporters yesterday as word began to circulate of Weiner’s decision.
Israel was referring to the proposal, included in the House-passed budget plan for fiscal year 2012, that would provide subsidies for purchasing private health insurance to people who turn 65 starting in 2022. Democrats say that the plan would short-change future Medicare beneficiaries.
The revelations about Weiner began surfacing just days after voter opposition to the Medicare plan helped a Democrat win a May 24 special election for an open House seat in a reliably Republican district in western New York.
Israel, one of those who had privately urged Weiner to quit, told reporters yesterday that Democrats couldn’t get voters to hear their message above the buzz created over his fellow New Yorker.
Focused on Scandal
“Last week the Republicans introduced a bill to privatize Social Security,” yet it drew scant attention because the public was “so focused on Congressman Weiner’s issues,” Israel told reporters yesterday. That legislation, introduced by Texas Republican Pete Sessions, who heads the House Republicans’ campaign effort, would let workers opt out of Social Security by setting up private retirement accounts.
Yesterday, Weiner, who is married, acknowledged that the stream of revelations about the photos and suggestive messages he had sent to women using Facebook, Twitter and e-mail had become a distraction for his House colleagues.
Reading from a statement, he said he had decided to resign “so my colleagues can get back to work.”
Weiner made his announcement at a Brooklyn senior citizens center where he had begun his political career in 1991 as a candidate for City Council in New York City.
‘Distraction I Created’
“I had hoped to be able to continue the work that the citizens of my district elected me to do,” Weiner said. “Unfortunately the distraction that I created has made that impossible.”
Weiner, who first won election to his House seat in 1998, was one of the most vocal Democratic critics of Republican policies. His attacks and frequent cable news interviews made him a hero to some Democratic activists.
At a June 6 news conference in New York City, he admitted that he had engaged in “inappropriate conversations” with six women over the last three years, including on Facebook, e-mail, Twitter and, with one of the women, on the telephone.
During the previous week, Weiner, 46, had publicly denied sending a racy photograph to a Seattle woman on Twitter and said his account had been hacked. The photo showed a man from the waist down in gray boxer briefs.
In his comments June 6, he said he wouldn’t resign from Congress, while acknowledging “terrible mistakes.”
Calls for Resignation
Pressure on Weiner to quit built among fellow House Democrats, culminating June 11 -- two days before the House returned from a one-week recess -- with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s public appeal for him to resign.
Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement after Weiner’s announcement yesterday that he had “exercised poor judgment in his actions and poor judgment in his reaction to the revelations. Today he made the right judgment in resigning.”
Along with making public calls for his resignation, colleagues had been urging him to do so in private conversations. Adding to the pressure, President Barack Obama said in a television interview earlier this week that if he were faced with the same situation, he would resign.
In an interview yesterday afternoon with ABC News, Obama said he wished Weiner and his wife well.
“It’s been a tough incident for him, but I’m confident that they’ll refocus and he’ll refocus, and they’ll end up being able to bounce back,” ABC quoted Obama as saying in the interview, set to run today on “Good Morning America.”
Told the Truth
The scandal that enveloped Weiner “could have ended differently” had the lawmaker told the truth from the start, said Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat. Still, he said, resigning was the right decision.
Asked by reporters why he thought pressure built on Weiner to quit when Representative Charles Rangel, another New York Democrat, didn’t face similar demands when he was officially censured by the House last December for ethics violations involving his finances, Pascrell said, “There is always something more mysterious about the flesh than about cash.”
Big Government, a conservative website, sparked the scandal when it published the boxer-briefs photo. It later published photographs and e-mails that it said had been sent by Weiner to unidentified women. One of the photos showed a man sitting bare- chested. The subject’s face wasn’t visible, though photos on a cabinet in the background showed Weiner.
Apology to Wife
At his June 6 news conference, Weiner said that he never met any of the women in person and that he had never had extramarital sex. He married Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, last year in a ceremony officiated by former President Bill Clinton. His wife is pregnant, the New York Times reported June 8, citing three people it didn’t identify.
As he did June 6, Weiner apologized yesterday to his wife, “to whom I owe so very much.” Abedin didn’t attend the news conference, though she was seen leaving the couple’s home with Weiner about 30 minutes before it began.
Weiner’s district encompasses parts of Queens and Brooklyn in New York City. In 2005, he came in second in a multicandidate Democratic mayoral primary. He was re-elected to Congress in 2010 with 61 percent of the vote, and had expressed interest in running for mayor in 2013.
“It’s really a tragedy for him, a tragedy for constituents,” said Pat Dolan, president of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association and a resident of Weiner’s district. “He was a big supporter of Israel, which is very important to this community, and a voice for progressive politics for the country,”
Weiner’s resignation is “good for the country, for Democrats, for his privacy and his family,” said Mergim Zeqiraj, 41, a waiter who lives a couple of blocks from Weiner’s Kew Gardens office. “He exits out of the attention, and the country can focus on more important things.”
“I could see chatting with one woman, but so many?” asked Henny Wallitsch, a 76-year-old retired steamfitter and boxer who said he once owned a topless club on Queens Boulevard.
Some constituents were mystified by Weiner’s decision to resign.
“If it’s virtual sex, is it really sex?” asked Michael King, 55, a retired postal worker. “It’s bizarre but I don’t think it’s a crime. If I had a computer, that’s what I’d do.”
--With assistance from Lisa Lerer and Catherine Dodge in Washington and Christopher Palmeri and Peter S. Green in New York. Editors: Leslie Hoffecker, Paul Tighe
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