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Democrats Can't Change the Subject Away From Weiner

Democrats Fret That N.Y. Congressman’s Troubles, Photos Still Driving Conversation in Washington

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Camera crews stake out Rep. Anthony Weiner's office in the Rayburn House Office Building on Monday.

Even in his absence from Washington, Rep. Anthony Weiner’s sex scandal continued to dominate political conversation Monday, undermining Democrats’ efforts to change the subject to the debt ceiling, jobs or anything not involving lurid pictures of the embattled New Yorker.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) had hoped the combined efforts by Democratic leaders Saturday would force Weiner out of office — and the scandal revolving around his sexually charged online activity off the front pages — but it was clearly not going away.

The Ethics Committee on Monday launched a preliminary investigation into Weiner’s actions, and President Barack Obama weighed in for the first time. “If it was me, I would resign,” Obama told NBC on Monday after White House spokesman  Jay Carney called the flurry of revelations a “distraction.”

Majority Leader Eric Cantor called on Pelosi to strip Weiner of his position on the Energy and Commerce Committee if he continues to resist resigning.

“I’ve called on him to resign. I called on him to resign early,” the Virginia Republican said during his weekly meeting with reporters. “I’d hope ... they’d move towards stripping him of his committees” should Weiner stick around, Cantor said.

“I think his leaders should do everything they can to bring him to that point, if he’s not there already,” Cantor added.

A clearly frustrated senior Democratic House aide argued the situation is now providing Republicans such as Cantor with a perfect opportunity to knock Democrats off message.

“The bottom line is that Rep. Weiner should resign and the GOP is engaged in a pathetic attempt to grab headlines in order to distract from their no-jobs agenda,” the aide said.

And the fault for that lies squarely with Weiner, a crisis communications expert and a Member who has weathered a scandal of his own, said.

Weiner made “terrible strategic mistakes at the outset. He should have clearly come clean in the beginning,” said Marina Ein, a crisis communications expert and founder of Ein Communications.

Ein noted that Americans have always reacted negatively to sex scandals involving married politicians, unlike in European nations, where sexual mores are less puritanical.

“The fact that Americans are shocked, shocked, shocked when married people act this way hasn’t changed since 1776,” Ein said. “The Congressman had every reason to believe this would be taken seriously.”

Rather than try to bury the story by claiming he had been hacked by conservative opponents, Ein argued, Weiner should have moved proactively to address the scandal and fully acknowledge his wrongdoing.

“Had he done that and prepared his colleagues better for this, he might not be standing where he is right now,” she said.

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