Rep. David Wu's announcement Tuesday that he would resign his seat capped off several days of pressure tactics from Democratic leaders, who wanted to avoid a dragged-out scandal such as that of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.).
It was only Friday that the allegations of sexual assault came to light against the Oregon Democrat. But since then, his support in Oregon political circles evaporated, Wu himself said he would not seek re-election, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) requested an Ethics Committee investigation and Oregon's two Democratic Senators called on him to resign. By just after noon Tuesday, it was over, with Wu releasing a statement saying he would resign after "the resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis."
The Ethics panel will no longer have jurisdiction over the matter after Wu officially vacates his seat.
House Democratic Conference Chairman John Larson spoke with Wu a handful of times after the Oregonian first reported Friday that "a distraught young woman" had called Wu's Portland office this spring "accusing him of an unwanted sexual encounter." Referencing the Weiner scandal, Larson said he warned Wu "how something can unravel."
"You can look only weeks ago to see what another colleague went through," the Connecticut Democrat told reporters after Wu announced his resignation.
Recollections of Weiner's scandal "are fresh in his mind," Larson said. "I can't say if he was gauging those; he didn't say. He only talked deeply about his children and his concern for them."
Wu's is the second sex scandal to rattle the Democratic Caucus since June, when Weiner stepped down after top Democrats repeatedly demanded he resign over his string of explicit online communications, which drew attention away from the Democratic agenda. At the time, the party was gaining ground in the message war against Republicans on the issue of Medicare, and much of that progress was overshadowed when information of Weiner's Twitter photos trickled out and dominated the news cycle.
Now the issue is the debt limit, and with Democrats singularly focused on that matter, they didn't want further distractions. "I think Wu also wanted to avoid being Weiner," a senior Democratic aide said.
With Wu on his way out, the main question in Oregon now is when Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) will schedule a special election to replace him. The governor will not call for one until he receives an official letter of resignation with a set date that Wu will step down. The timing of the special has ramifications on the process.
If Kitzhaber schedules the special within 80 days of Wu's resignation, the major parties would select their own nominees internally. If it is scheduled outside 80 days, a primary would be held to nominate the candidates.
Oregon is a completely vote-by-mail state, and a spokeswoman for the secretary of state estimated the cost would be $400,000 if the parties select their nominees and $800,000 if a primary is held. If Wu resigns next week, the 80-day mark would land in mid-October, and there are coinciding elections in November, the spokeswoman said.
Two Democrats, state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state Rep. Brad Witt, are already in the race for the 1st district, and Democrats said state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D) is strongly considering a bid.
EMILY's List, a national political action committee that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, has backed Bonamici in the past, and she could be able to tap into the organization's national fundraising network.
Karen Packer, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Washington County, the largest in the district, said she expects the governor will schedule it so that a primary can be held and that more than three Democrats will likely run.
"I mean, it's an open seat now," she said. "It's very attractive. Our point of view is no matter who the nominee is, we're going to work very hard to keep this seat blue."
Avakian, who raised $195,000 in the second quarter, said at a press conference Tuesday in Oregon that he wants the governor to schedule the special election for as soon as possible.
Republicans in the district will be targeting the seat, but Democrats in Washington, D.C., remain confident they'll hold it. The district, which runs from Portland west to the Pacific Ocean, has been represented by only Democrats since 1974.
Pelosi said Wu's decision "is a recognition of his need to focus on his children and their future."
Similarly, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said Wu "did the right thing" by announcing he would step down.
"I think David has some deep personal problems that make it clear that he needs to focus on himself and getting his life straightened out, and the distraction of serving in Congress, I think, would make that tough," the Florida lawmaker said.