Rep. Chris Lee (N.Y.) resigned Wednesday in the wake of allegations that the married Republican pursued a date with a woman on Craigslist and sent her a revealing photo of himself.
Lee’s resignation letter was read on the House floor, and he apologized for the scandal in a statement released by his office.
“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York,” Lee said in the statement. “I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.
“The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately,” he added.
The Gawker website published on Wednesday a series of e-mails purportedly between Lee and a woman he met on Craigslist to set up a date. Gawker also posted a photo that Lee had taken of himself shirtless.
Lee’s spokesman told Gawker that the lawmaker’s account had been hacked. “The only time he or his wife posted something online was to sell old furniture when they changed the apartment they keep in D.C.,” the spokesman told Gawker.
A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to comment. “We don’t discuss conversations the Speaker has with Members,” spokesman Michael Steel said.
Lee’s resignation is the latest in a series of problems that have beset the new House GOP majority since it took control last month.
On the first day of the 112th Congress, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) missed the official swearing-in in order to attend an event with donors.
Then Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was forced on Tuesday to pull a trade bill off the floor after conservative opposition grew so intense that it was clear the measure would have failed. That evening, conservatives and progressive Democrats came together to defeat an extension of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Republicans were handed yet another legislative defeat Wednesday, when one of Cantor’s signature YouCut spending reduction bills was defeated.
Lee’s resignation means his seat will remain unfilled at least temporarily.
Once New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo formally declares Lee’s seat vacant, a special election must be held within 30 to 40 days, according to state election law.
Democrats see an opportunity in the special election, but they weren’t overly optimistic when reached Wednesday night.
“It’s a 47 percent Obama district,” said one Democratic campaign official, adding that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent money in the 26th district in 2008 when there was an open-seat contest. “We’re not saying we’ll clearly win it. But we’ll put it in play.”
Elizabeth Brotherton and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.