WASHINGTON — Rejecting calls by Democratic leaders for him to resign in a sexting scandal, Rep. Anthony Weiner is instead seeking professional treatment and asking for a leave of absence from Congress.
Weiner’s plan leaves top Democrats wrestling with how best to end the furor over the seven-term congressman’s misdeeds that could hurt the party’s prospects in the 2012 elections.
Weiner’s announcement that he would request a leave from Congress came shortly after several Democratic party leaders demanded he quit Saturday. The Weiner spectacle, with raunchy online photos and messages, has been a huge embarrassment for Democrats who back in 2006 made Republican ethics misdeeds a part of their successful campaign to win control of the House.
“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 statement calling for the 46-year-old married lawmaker from New York City 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 a statement that the congressman departed Saturday 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.
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.
Democrats said the concerted call for his resignation had been brewing for days, as senior party officials concluded the scandal was interfering with their effort to gain political momentum in advance of the 2012 elections.