It’s not just the weather that’s been steamy in DC. New York Congressman Anthony Weiner has finally bowed to the political pressure and resigned – a promising career dragged down by the scandal over the lewd photographs he sent to women on line.
In the end, he simply proved too much of a distraction to the Democratic party. It was time to go. “I got into politics to help give voice to the many who simply did not have one,” he said. “Now I will be looking for other ways to contribute my talents.”
The press conference itself was a fittingly bawdy affair, with constant heckles from a Howard Stern show producer, along the lines of “You pervert!” More seriously, Weiner made an apology to his wife Huma Abeidin – who was not at his side during the press conference. She’s said to be “devastated” and “shocked” by his behaviour. According to reports, the Congressman made the decision to go after lengthy discussions with his wife, who’d been travelling abroad with her boss, Hillary Clinton. One can only imagine the conversation those two women had on the plane ride home.
Except President Bill Clinton stayed in office throughout the Lewinsky scandal – and there’s the rub. How come some politicians manage to survive the most humiliating disclosures, while others are left with no choice but to go?
Louisiana’s senator David Vitter hung on despite being embroiled in a prostitution scandal four years ago – he remained popular with his colleagues and easily won re-election last year. New York’s former mayor Eliot Spitzer – aka Client Number Nine – failed to keep his job.
Earlier this year, it took another New York Congressman, the Republican Chris Lee, just eight hours to resign – after the topless photographs of himself supposedly sent to a woman via an internet dating ad were revealed to the world. In April, Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada, stepped down suddenly, two years after news of his extramarital affair with a former campaign aide emerged. A decision to launch an Ethics committee inquiry into his behaviour was the last straw.
Weiner, too, was facing a possible ethics investigation into whether he violated House rules. Then again, he did lie about what happened. For more than a week he tried to claim that the embarrassing photos sent from his Twitter account must have been the work of a hacker. Then last week – yet more lewd pictures emerged, and it became clear that at least six other women were involved. By Wednesday a porn actress had emerged on the celebrity website TMZ claiming she was among them. This was a scandal that could clearly run and run – something the Democratic leadership was determined to avoid. Eventually even President Obama voiced his public frustration: “If it was me, I would resign”. Weiner tried announcing that he would merely take a period of leave and work on “becoming a better husband”. But he’d already become a political liability.
The Democrats are clearly relieved by his decision: the party is hoping to re-take Weiner’s seat in a special election – the seat he’d easily held for seven terms. And they’re hoping there’ll be no more distractions hampering their efforts to win back control of the House in 2012.
These are steamy times in DC. Weiner’s Twitpix are merely the latest in weeks of lurid headlines featuring, among others, John Edwards, Arnie Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Good times for the tabloids and late night comedy shows. For the noble tradition of politics, not so much.
Felicity Spector is a deputy programme editor for Channel 4 News.