According to The Washington Post, former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) is under investigation for “allegations that he groped multiple male staffers working in his office.” That’s a lot different than the story that Massa told—he said that he was a victim of “political correctness” after a third party reported “salty language” he used at a wedding, and then he went on to charge that he was being forced out of the House by Democratic leaders because he opposed health-care reform. The Post says the information was provided to the House Ethics Committee by Massa’s former deputy chief of staff, Ron Hikel. The Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove and Benjamin Sarlin on Massa’s wild week.
Freshman House Democrat Eric Massa is punctuating one of recent political history’s more memorable meltdowns—including his abrupt resignation, effective 5 p.m. Monday—by booking himself on the Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck.
It makes a certain amount of nutty sense, given that Tuesday’s scheduled appearance caps the western New York congressman’s erratic behavior over the past week.
“Clearly the man has lost his mind,” said Democratic media consultant Jimmy Siegel, who met Massa in 2006 when he shot a television commercial for Massa’s narrowly unsuccessful House race that year and “felt he was a bit of a martinet.”
Massa “just looks certifiable. I think it’s somewhat lacking as a survival strategy. However, as a strategy to get himself on a reality show where 10 people are stuck in a house, it will work well for him.”
“Now he just looks certifiable,” Siegel added. “I think it’s somewhat lacking as a survival strategy. However, as a strategy to get himself on a reality show where 10 people are stuck in a house, it will work well for him.”
Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said Massa has assured his enduring legacy in American politics. “Now that he’s gotten on the horse that leads directly to the mental hospital, he’s a lunatic forever,” Sheinkopf predicted. The Daily Beast’s efforts to reach Massa and his staff were unavailing.
First the 50-year-old Massa, whose victory in 2008 in New York’s conservative 29th Congressional District was celebrated as a Democratic triumph, declared that he wouldn’t run again because of a recurrence of cancer. Then, after an apparently heartfelt mea culpa in which the Annapolis graduate acknowledged using “salty” language that “might make a chief petty officer feel uncomfortable,” he announced his resignation because of a House Ethics Committee probe into a sexual-harassment complaint by one of Massa’s male staffers. “There is no doubt that this ethics issue is my fault and mine alone,” Massa said on Friday.
But then, on Sunday, Massa shifted blame. During a breathtaking rant on his regular radio program—by turns angry, creepy, and ribald—he claimed that the real reason for his departure was that the Democratic leadership, led by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, was determined to force him out, all because he refuses to support President Obama’s health-care bill and other key programs.
“Rahm Emanuel is son of the devil’s spawn,” the congressman told his listeners on local station WKPQ-FM in Hornell, New York. “He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote. He would strap his children to the front end of a steam locomotive.”
Massa regaled listeners with an account of confronting Emanuel while soaping up in the House gym showers. “I am showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me,” said the congressman.
“You can’t beat this,” marveled political insider Mitchell Moss, a professor at New York University. “We have now come to a point in our culture where the House of Representatives has more skin than the Academy Awards.”
And yet, several supporters of Obama’s health-care reform suggested Monday that there’s a method to Massa’s madness.
Massa, who has said he supports a single-payer plan that is considered too liberal to pass, explained his vote against the initial House bill by saying it wasn’t progressive enough—it didn’t cover enough people, he argued, and wasn’t tough enough on insurance companies. And yet some liberal activists doubted his sincerity, claiming Massa was trying to have it both ways—courting liberal campaign donors and the Netroots crowd outside his swing district while touting his “ no” vote on Obamacare to his conservative constituents.
“He’s been duplicitous at best,” said Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now. “He was making left-wing and right-wing arguments at the same time, and we saw it as pure politics. He represented a conservative district and decided he would try to play to everyone.”
Indeed, said Kirsch, Massa parroted Republican talking points when he said an individual mandate requiring Americans to purchase health care was unconstitutional, that cuts to Medicare Advantage would harm senior citizens, and that the bill should include a provision allowing insurance companies to operate across state lines.
“He told the single-payer advocates what they wanted to hear, he told conservatives what they wanted to hear, and at the end of the day a guy who ran on health care basically decided politics came before actually providing affordable coverage for people,” Kirsch said.
Massa’s purported backing of a public option was lukewarm and didn’t translate into tangible support for efforts to insert the provision in legislation, said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Massa “never lifted a finger for the public option, so far as I know,” he said.
Lloyd Grove is editor at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.
Benjamin Sarlin is Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.