Exploring Ethics As Weiner Is Expected To Voice Resignation
MICHEL MARTIN, Host:
Next, to the political news of the day. The resignation of Congressman Anthony Weiner, once a rising star in the House - that is expected to be announced in the coming hours. The New York Democrat has faced intense pressure to quit since he admitted to sending sexually charged photos and messages via social media to a number of young women.
Joining us to talk more about this is NPR's David Welna. He joins us from the Capitol. David, thanks for joining us.
DAVID WELNA: Sure. Good morning, Michel.
MARTIN: Mr. Weiner had been under intense pressure to quit, but to this point, he'd said that he would not quit - that he would - he wanted to take a leave of absence. What changed his mind?
WELNA: It's hard telling, exactly, what changed his mind. One factor may have been the fact that his wife, whom he married a year ago, and who is a top aide to Hillary Clinton, had been out of the country and returned yesterday. He had told colleagues that he would not make a decision about his future, definitively, until he'd had a face-to-face conversation with her. That may well have happened. Another factor was that House Democrats were planning to meet today to strip Weiner of a key committee assignment, another way of pressuring him to step down. But there have also been numerous public calls from very high-ranking Democrats, including President Obama, who said if he were Weiner, he would resign.
And House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, who publicly called for him to quit. So I think all those factors sort of added up to a pretty bleak outlook for Weiner in the House, if he chose to remain.
MARTIN: Mr. Weiner had insisted that no laws were broken here. But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had referred the matter to the Ethics Committee. What was the ethics question there? What was the question? Was that just another way to pressure him out?
WELNA: Well, she did so right after he announced that, in fact, it was he who had sent the racy photo in question, and that it was of himself. At that point, we didn't know a whole lot more about what had gone on. We subsequently found out that he had also been posting things to a 17-year-old in Delaware, which may actually have legal implications, as well.
But there is a rule in the House that says that all members shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House. And there were real questions about whether Weiner's behavior could meet that standard. And that alone would be reason for the Ethics Committee to start an investigation.
MARTIN: David, I want to ask you stand by for a minute, because I want to turn now to Jack Marshall to talk a little bit more about the ethics questions. He's the president and founder of ProEthics. That's an ethics consultancy group. And he also advises, you know, corporate leaders and others on these issues. You think there's a broader ethical question here, apart from any legal issues. Why do you think that?
JACK MARSHALL: Well, you know, the first thing you always hear in these circumstances is, I didn't break any laws. But, in fact, ethics goes beyond that - particularly for leadership. And one of the things that all the various excuses and rationalizations that were being put out about Representative Weiner is that leaders, in order to lead, need to appear to be worthy of leadership.
And that's the reason the No. 1 ethics rule in the House is that you do not want to do something that reflects badly on the House of Representatives because, ultimately, the strength of a democracy is that the belief in leaders as people who are worthy to make decisions that will affect our lives. So a lot of this is the failure to act, to play the role, the proper role of someone who's worthy to lead. That's what was really at issue here.
MARTIN: Often, we ask the question of whether the public is too interested or whether the media is too interested in the private lives of individuals. We really don't seem to be having that kind of conversation around this episode. Jack, why do you think that is?
MARSHALL: Well, it's certainly live on the Internet. You hear a lot of people say, you know, how does this - and Representative Weiner sort of raised it when he said this doesn't affect how hard I'm going to work or how effective I'm going to be. But the fact is, a leader and a congressman isn't a plumber. You know, my plumber can fix my toilet regardless of what his sexual habits are or whether he's an admirable character. But to lead requires something more.
MARTIN: And, David, I wanted to ask you in the minute or so we have left, what's the mood in the House around this, particularly among the Democrats, you know, obviously, and among the progressives? As we mentioned, that Anthony Weiner was considered a rising star, a very strong, progressive voice. He was even mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor in New York City in 2013. So what's the mood around there now?
WELNA: Well, you know, Democrats had been tearing their hair about this, because all that we've been hearing about for the past three weeks is Anthony Weiner. And Democrats had been hoping that instead, people would be talking about the fact that House Republicans have proposed an overhaul of Medicare that's proven to be quite unpopular among people being polled. And they felt like the conversation was focused entirely on a hugely embarrassing issue for Democrats.
And there was a real test of the leadership there, too, of whether minority leader Pelosi, who gave up her gavel as speaker of the House in January, would be able to actually force Weiner to step aside. And, in fact, she prevailed, and I think everyone is breathing a huge sigh of relief.
MARTIN: And among the progressives, do they feel that they will be able to regain that momentum?
WELNA: It's hard telling how much damage this has done to them. For one thing, the distraction is gone for the most part, now. I'm sure there'll be some more talk of it afterwards. But I think that there's a whole question of whether Democrats are going to live up to the standards that Minority Leader Pelosi set for them.
MARTIN: OK. NPR's David Welna was with us from the Capitol, where he covers Congress. Thank you, David.
WELNA: You're welcome, Michel.
MARTIN: Also with us, Jack Marshall. He's the president and founder of ProEthics. That's an ethics training and consulting firm. He's also a writer of Ethics Alarms, a blog dedicated to ethics commentary. He was with us our Washington, D.C. studio. Thank you for coming.
MARSHALL: Thank you very much, Michel.
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