Weiner wants leave; leaders call for resignation

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WASHINGTON — The top leaders in the Democratic party called on embattled Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., to resign Saturday even as the scandal-tarred congressman announced he would seek a leave of absence from the House to seek treatment.

Weiner spokeswoman Risa Heller said Saturday afternoon that the congressman “departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.” She added that he would request “a short leave of absence from the House” after which he would make a decision on his political future. Heller did not return an email regarding what sort of treatment Weiner was seeking.

Weiner’s decision came just as the Democratic party leadership issued a coordinated call for him to resign.

“Congressman Weiner has the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents, and the recognition that he needs help,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). “I urge Congressman Weiner to seek that help without the pressures of being a Member of Congress.”

Of Weiner, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida said “the behavior he has exhibited is indefensible and Representative Weiner’s continued service in Congress is untenable.”

Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Clyburn of South Carolina offered a discordant note in the nearly-unanimous calls for Weiner’s resignation; “I stand by my comments from last week that the full Caucus should address this issue when we meet next week,” he said in a statement.

Weiner, who has acknowledged “inappropriate” online conduct with at least six women, has previously insisted he had no plans to resign.

The leave of absence, which is not an official designation and means that Weiner will not only remain a member of the House but continue to receive his congressional salary, seems designed to buy the New York Democrat some time as he ponders his political future.

It’s also not without precedent. In 2002, then Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) took an unexplained two-week leave of absence; in 2009, Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan (R) took a month-long leave of absence to enter the Betty Ford clinic for treatment of alcoholism.

Weiner’s decision to stay in office despite the urgings of his party leadership was not greeted warmly. “That is unacceptable,” said one senior Democratic party official. “The die is cast. He needs to move on.”

And, the calls for his resignation were the result of a several-day process aimed at ending the political problem Weiner had created.

Beginning Thursday, Democratic officials began talks about the possibility of calling for Weiner to step aside. A Saturday morning deadline was decided on; if Weiner had not resigned by then the leadership of the party would call on him to do so in a coordinated fashion.

The deadline was a function of the inevitable questions about resignations that were sure to be posed to Democratic officials on Sunday talk shows as well as the fact that the House was returning from a recess on Monday.

Also, late Friday came a report that police were looking into Weiner’s online contact with a 17-year old girl in Delaware — his office has acknowledged the correspondence but has said it was entirely innocous — that further complicated his chances of holding on to his seat. Party officials insist the decision to call on Weiner to resign had been made prior to the story breaking in Delaware.

A senior House Democratic aide said that the Weiner scandal had functioned as a huge distraction for the party. “For two weeks we’ve only talked about Anthony Weiner,” the source said. “We haven’t talked about Medicare. We haven’t talked about creating jobs.”

The Weiner saga began two weeks ago today when he accidentally published a picture of his underwear-clad groin on his personal Twitter feed that he meant to be sent to a college student in Seattle, Washington.

After denying that he sent the picture, Weiner admitted in a New York City press conference that he had in fact done so and that the lewd image in question was of him.

If Weiner does resign, the duty of calling a special election to replace him would fall to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Democrats would be favored in any special election scenario.

Staff writers Felicia Sonmez and Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.