WASHINGTON – Under fierce pressure from fellow Democrats to resign in a sexting scandal, Rep. Anthony Weiner announced Saturday he was entering professional treatment at an undisclosed location and requested a leave of absence from Congress.
An aide for the embattled New York lawmaker made the disclosure in
a statement shortly after several Democratic party leaders demanded he quit for exchanging messages and photos ranging from sexually suggestive to explicit with several women online.
"This sordid affair has become an unacceptable distraction for Representative Weiner, his family, his constituents and the House," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the party chairwoman, said in a written statement calling for the 46-year-old married lawmaker to step down.
The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said Weiner "has the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents and the recognition that he needs help. I urge Congressman Weiner to seek that help without the pressures of being a member of Congress."
Aides said later that Pelosi had been aware of Weiner's plan to enter treatment when she issued her statement, and her call for a resignation had not changed because of it.
Weiner's spokeswoman, Risa Heller, said in the statement that the congressman departed during the morning "to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person. In light of that, he will request a short leave of absence from the House of Representatives so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well."
The statement did not say where he would receive treatment, or what type was involved. Others familiar with his plans said he had left New York by air.
Also joining in calls for Weiner to quit was Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a member of the party's leadership.
In an interview, Israel said he had told Weiner in a phone call during the day "that I was going to call on him to resign and he absorbed that. Obviously he had much more personal and pressing issues that he was addressing.
"He didn't give me any indication of whether he was going to resign or not," Israel said.
Pelosi also spoke with Weiner during the day to let him know that she, too, would be joining the calls for resignation.
The developments occurred one day after Weiner acknowledged he had exchanged online messages with a 17-year-old girl in Delaware. He said nothing improper had passed between the two of them.
Nor was there even an allegation that Weiner had a physical relationship with any of the women with whom he maintained virtual relationships. That made his case a departure from the norm, a sex scandal without sex, a phenomenon of the age of Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Democrats said the concerted call for a resignation had been brewing for days, as senior party officials concluded the scandal was interfering with their attempts to gain political momentum in advance of the 2012 elections.
"We had decided we were not going to have one more week of Anthony Weinergate," said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
This official added that Pelosi and Israel had spoken numerous times in the past several days with Weiner, hoping to persuade him to step down for the good of the party, telling him that because of the media focus on his predicament, their attacks on a Republican Medicare proposal were largely unnoticed.
Publicly, Pelosi, Wasserman Schultz and others had been notably reticent in the days since Weiner held a news conference on Monday to announce he had exchanged lewd photos, and more, with a handful of women.
On Thursday, an X-rated photo surfaced on a website, and in response, Weiner's office issued a statement that did not deny it had been taken of him.
The Democratic National Committee was so eager to downplay the controversy that earlier in the week, spokesman Brad Woodhouse referred calls to Wasserman Schultz' House office, saying Weiner's predicament was a congressional matter.
Her statement demanding a resignation, five days later, was issued by the DNC.
The White House declined comment on the matter, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, his state's dominant Democrat, maintained a public silence after an initial statement issued on Monday.
The statement by Weiner's aide did not specify how long a leave of absence the congressman would seek. According to one Democratic aide, leaves are granted automatically once a lawmaker requests one, and no vote or other type of acquiescence by the House is required. It is not known whether any other lawmakers are currently on leave.
Until disclosing he was seeking treatment, Weiner had given no indication he was considering anything other than returning to the Capitol on Monday when the House returns from a week-long break — raising the prospect of a circus-like atmosphere when the news media attempted to track his whereabouts.
He ran some personal errands near his home in Queens during the morning, and said he was looking forward to getting back to work quickly.
"I've made some mistakes. I've acknowledged it. I'm trying to make it up to my wife and my family," he said. "I'm working hard to get back to normal."
As he walked to a neighborhood dry cleaner with a load of shirts over one arm he wore an anguished look on his face, but fielded questions politely and paused several times to accept well wishes from neighbors and constituents.
Asked how his wife was taking the scandal, Weiner said, "She's doing well. She's a remarkable woman."
Weiner is married to Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Abedin, who is pregnant with the couple's first child, is traveling with Clinton in Africa until the middle of next week.
She was not in attendance on Monday when Weiner held his news conference, choosing to avoid the stand-by-your-man-moment that has become standard in other sex scandals in recent years.
Before Saturday's developments, at least nine Democratic House members and three senators said Weiner should resign.
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