06.17.11

How the Dems Toppled Weiner

The sexting congressman refused to resign, but Nancy Pelosi had other ideas. Patricia Murphy on how the party leaders forced out the man who’d become a national embarrassment.

Anthony Weiner’s resignation did not happen quickly, easily, or without sustained and unprecedented pressure from a trio of Washington’s most powerful Democrats telling the lawmaker that his career in the House was over.

In a phone call with Nancy Pelosi last Friday, in which the minority leader told Weiner that he had to quit, the embattled Brooklyn politician revealed the depths of his denial, telling Pelosi that a poll showed 56 percent of his constituents wanted him to stay. She continued to press her case, according to a top aide. “Consider those rose petals to let you go graciously,” Pelosi pleaded.

For House Democrats, that call came at the end of an excruciating week that began with Weiner staging a tearful press conference to admit that he had sent lewd photos of himself to women online. Democratic leaders watched in disbelief as he confessed not only his bizarre online relationships, but also that he had lied to his House colleagues in a desperate attempt to cover his tracks. 

At the time, the leaders were angry about being deceived, but they still believed that Weiner might weather the scandal that he had unleashed.   

But by Wednesday, after a steady stream of porn-star stories, sordid photographs, and sickening details about Weiner’s years of online exploits, Democrats wanted him gone.

“It was just the drip, drip, drip,” said a top Democratic adviser. “The decision was made on Wednesday that he had to go and that he until Saturday to do it himself.” 

Over the next three painful days, top aides say Pelosi, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz repeatedly implored Weiner to step down.  With an ethics committee investigation already under way and the cringe-inducing news that Weiner had repeatedly texted a 17-year-old girl, they told the famously stubborn Weiner that he had to go.

Gallery: Possible Jobs for Weiner
weiner-box
Daily Beast Illustration

By Saturday, Weiner again refused to resign and told Pelosi that he would take a leave of absence from Congress instead.  For the Democratic leader, it was the last straw.  Wasserman Schultz, the first woman to lead the DNC, had made up her mind the night before that she would publicly call for Weiner to relinquish his seat.   

“The behavior he has exhibited is indefensible and Representative Weiner’s continued service in Congress is untenable,” Wasserman Schultz said in a blistering statement that day.

 
Pelosi followed: “I urge Congressman Weiner to seek that help without the pressures of being a member of Congress.” 

With Wasserman Schultz and Pelosi on the record, members of Congress returned to Washington the following Monday knowing that their Democratic leadership, including the president, would not support Weiner if he tried to remain.  Anyone who defended him would be acting without the party’s blessing. 

No member of Congress came to Weiner’s defense on Monday. Instead, several told The Daily Beast that while they would not help him, they did not feel comfortable pushing further for his resignation until Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, returned to the country after an overseas trip with her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

By early Wednesday morning, Abedin had returned, but Weiner sent no signals to Washington that he was ready to relent.  After a story appeared in Politico that Democrats were calling a meeting to strip him of his committee assignments and essentially excise him from his party, Weiner called Pelosi and Israel, who were both at a White House picnic for members of Congress, to say, finally, that he would leave the House.

While some were prepared to forgive him for the X-rated photos that he emailed, none could forget the lies that he had told them.

Weiner’s Democratic colleagues in the House, clearly relieved to see the episode sputter to an end, described the scandal as a human tragedy that an unusually talented man had inflicted entirely upon himself. 

And while some were prepared to forgive him for the X-rated photos that he emailed, none could forget the lies that he had told them.

“The lesson is, tell the truth. What would have happened if he didn’t lie?” says Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey.  “If he had told us, ‘Hey guys, I did some real stupid things,’ we would have said, ‘What did you do? Yeah, that’s pretty stupid.’  But somehow he thought that this would all pass by and we would see the sun set and the sun rise the next morning.  Ain’t gonna happen.”

Eliot Engel, a fellow New York Democrat and friend of Weiner who spoke with him throughout the scandal, says that by lying to his fellow House members, Weiner had sealed his own fate. 

“If you look at history, it was always the coverup that was more damaging than whatever someone may have done,” Engel says.  “I think it certainly would have been easier for him to stay [had he not lied]. It would have been a possibility.”

As badly wounded as Weiner appeared Thursday, neither Pascrell, Engel, nor a half dozen other Democrats interviewed by The Daily Beast said they believe that Weiner’s mistakes are fatal to his career. 

With nearly $5 million in his campaign account and no apparent legal action in the works, colleagues say Weiner could still mount a run for mayor of New York or try his hand at punditry.

“Eliot Spitzer is now on TV,” says Engel, referring to the former New York governor and his CNN program. “I never put anything past Anthony… I think he’ll land on his feet.”

But Pascrell says Weiner has more pressing issues to take care of before plotting his next move in politics or television.

“He’s got to be caught up in the idea of making amends,” Pascrell said.  “And if he’s not, then he’s more stupid than the things that he just did.”