When top Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, called on Rep. Anthony Weiner to resign yesterday, for about five minutes, his career seemed over. Weiner's sex scandal, which had been growing increasingly salacious, crossed a line for his colleagues when he admitted to directly messaging a 17-year-old girl, although he maintained that those communications contained nothing inappropriate. But instead of stepping aside, Weiner announced that he was entering a psychological treatment center, and seeking a leave of absence from the House. In short, that he wasn't resigning.
This wasn't a compromise. The New York Times reports that Weiner told Pelosi of his plan to get treatment and take the leave Saturday morning, yet she still called on Weiner to resign later. Representative Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also called up Weiner, urging him to resign. Both had repeatedly asked Weiner to resign, warning him him that if he refused, they would have to make their case publicly. Still Weiner denied their requests, leaving them to do exactly that. According to the Times, one high-ranking Democratic official described them as "frustrated." So why didn't Weiner just quit?
Weiner is actually sick. Overall, the Times writeup of the Weiner story paints the beleaguered congressman as a man who is seriously ill and falling apart. Friends describe him as "distraught and fragile," he is said to be "losing weight," and becoming "more anguished." We learn that Weiner has been seeing a therapist, and is acknowledging that his conduct reflected "not just bad judgment, but perhaps a deeper psychological problem." It also provides the first statement from Senator Chuck Schumer, his mentor, in which he says, “I am heartbroken. It’s clear he needs professional help and I am glad he is seeking it.”
If this is the case, Weiner's leave of absence is not without precedent. According to the Washington Post, in 2002, then Sen. John Ensign took an unexplained two-week leave, and in 2009, Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan took a month-long leave to enter the Betty Ford Center for treatment of alcoholism.
Weiner is buying time. But most people remain skeptical of this move, wondering what exactly it is that Weiner is seeking treatment for. The Post came right out and asked his spokesperson, who did not respond. As Dave Weigel writes at Slate, "We're at that stage of the scandal: Entering 'treatment,' without seeing what the treatment is for." He also points out that as recently as Monday, Weiner had a completely different strategy, telling the New York Post that "This is not something that can be treated away; this is my own personal mistake."
But what is he buying time for? As Weigel writes, "his leader in the House and the chairwoman of his party have now called for him to go, and it's hard to imagine either statement coming if the White House hadn't decided to wish Weiner into the cornfield." So what is the point of staving off the inevitable?
His wife wants him to remain in office. Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, with her close relationship to the Clintons, is a powerful figure politically. She is also pregnant, and appears to be standing by him. He may think that she can clean up after him. As the Times reported, Weiner repeatedly told Pelosi that he could not resign now because his wife, Huma Abedin, was traveling abroad with her boss, Hillary Clinton -- "an assertion they viewed as an unpersuasive pretext." The Wall Street Journal also reports that Weiner has been privately telling colleagues that his wife wants him to remain in office.
But Andrew Breitbart thinks even Abedin's influence with the Clintons won't be enough. On Fox & Friends Saturday morning, Breitbart said an “impeccable source” had told him that “Obama and Clinton spoke to him yesterday and said ‘Get the hell out of here,’” reports Mediaite. “I cannot imagine that this guy can survive til Monday,” he said.
He will never resign willingly. But Kirsten Powers, Weiner's ex-girlfriend who has spoken out against him, tweeted yesterday after the news, "I'll say it for the 800th time: Anthony will not resign unless there is threat of legal prosecution, which at this point there would be no basis for." As the scandal drags on and Weiner remains defiant, Powers might be right. Intrade currently gives the possibility of Weiner resigning a 58% chance. Yesterday, it was as high as 75%. Oddly, things are looking up for him.