RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Congressman Anthony Weiner says he's staying put. The New York Democrat admitted earlier this week that he had inappropriate exchanges with women online, exchanges that included sexually explicit pictures. He also said he will not resign his House seat. As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, that poses a dilemma for his Democratic colleagues.
ANDREA SEABROOK: In the long and storied history of Washington sex scandals, there are examples of shamed politicians who stayed and others who resigned. Let's test your memory. Can you guess who this is?
President BILL CLINTON: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.
SEABROOK: And then later came this...
Pres. CLINTON: Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.
SEABROOK: If you said Bill Clinton, you're right. The former president, a Democrat, stayed in office after he admitted to the affair, though Republicans did try to oust him.
Next sound clip, this one from a taped conference call. Who's this?
Representative ERIC MASSA (Democrat, New York): Now, there are blogs who are saying that I'm leaving because there were charges of harassment against my staff.
SEABROOK: Don't know this one? I'll give you a clue: tickle fights. Yep, it's New York Democrat Eric Massa, who claimed he was resigning because he had cancer, though leaving the House also got him out of an ethics investigation.
Okay, how about this one?
Senator DAVID VITTER (Republican, Louisiana): I want to, again, offer my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past.
SEABROOK: This one is especially notable, because the lawmaker talking is still in the United States Senate. It's David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana. He was exposed as being a client of a Washington prostitution ring. That's illegal. After his apology in 2007, Vitter ran for re-election last fall and won by a wide margin.
There are many more examples of Washington sex scandals. Just look on Wikipedia, the list goes back to 1796.
Weiner says his actions are completely separate from his official duties and shouldn't taint his work in Congress. And as for whether what he did was illegal...
Mr. STAN BRAND (Attorney): I don't see, yet, what the legal issue is for him.
SEABROOK: That's Stan Brand, an attorney who has defended many lawmakers before the House and Senate Ethics Committees. It's not illegal to flirt, he says, and it's not illegal to lie to the press. That happens all the time. Also, said Brand, there are no congressional rules for how to act online.
But still, Democratic leaders have to decide whether to ask Weiner to resign and get all this out of the spotlight or let him stay. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi requested an ethics investigation to find out if Weiner used any government resources or broke any other rules in his digital dalliances. And Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, when asked about this yesterday, responded with...
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): I know Congressman Weiner. I wish there was some way I can defend him, but I can't.
SEABROOK: What may make it so hard for Democrats to call for his resignation is that Weiner has been such an effective communicator for their causes. He's a bulldog. Last summer, he took the floor in response to GOP feet-dragging on a bill to pay for health coverage for 9-11 responders.
Representative ANTHONY WEINER (Democrat, New York): It's Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes. It is a shame - a shame.
SEABROOK: Several high-profile Republicans have called for Weiner's resignation, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. And the Democrats have to ask themselves: When it comes to being an asset to them, are Weiner's political skills cancelled out by his Twitter sex scandal?
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News,�Washington.
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