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If Rep. Weiner stays in Congress, will he become irrelevant?

Former members of Congress paint a grim picture of what could await Rep. Weiner if he doesn't resign, including shunning and loss of influence. Democrats are already edging away.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / June 8, 2011

US Rep. Anthony Weiner addresses a news conference in New York, Monday. With the first call for him to step down from the Democrats, has Weiner become irrelevant?

Richard Drew/AP


New York

After he made headlines for cavorting with stripper Fanne Foxe in late 1974, Rep. Wilbur Mills of Arkansas resigned his powerful position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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The disgraced Democrat did not resign his seat, however, electing to complete his term. Instead, he sat next to the new committee chairman, Rep. Al Ullman of Oregon, “and did not say a word,” recalls retired Rep. Bill Frenzel (R) of Minnesota, a former member of the powerful tax-writing committee.

“He did not want to say anything. He just became irrelevant.”

Is that the fate of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) from New York, now facing a congressional ethics investigation in the wake of his admission that he had sent lewd photos of himself to six women and then lied about it?

It might be. Congressman Weiner says he won’t resign, but according to former members of Congress and their staff, it becomes increasingly difficult for lawmakers to operate once they have a cloud over their heads. Other members shun them, embarrassed to be on the same podium with them. Few of their colleagues ask for their opinion or to cosponsor legislation. Other lawmakers return contributions from the PACs of the tarnished lawmakers as if the money were radioactive.

“Members don’t have a close relationship like they used to,” says Pete Davis, a former staff member on the Joint Committee on Taxation. “They are happy to pitch each other over the side if they get in trouble.” [Editor's note: The original version misidentified where Mr. Davis had been a staff member as the House Ways and Means Committee.]

For example, this February after Rep. Chris Lee (R) of New York, who was married, sent a bare-chested photo of himself to a woman he met on Craig’s List, he was pressured by his party to resign. In 2008, Rep. Vito Fossella (R) of New York, another married man, also was pressed by his party not to run for reelection after he got picked up for drunken driving en route to see his mistress, with whom he had a child out of wedlock.

First Democrat calls for him to resign

In Weiner’s case, Democratic Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, asked on Tuesday what advice he would give Weiner if he heard from him, replied, “Call someone else.” And on Wednesday, Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania became Weiner’s first Democratic House colleague to demand that he resign.

Weiner’s future may ultimately be decided by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York, his political mentor, say political observers. “That will drive the decisions,” agrees Mr. Frenzel, now a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.


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