AP Special Correspondent
POSTED: 10:07 a.m. HST, Jun 11, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 10:37 a.m. HST, Jun 11, 2011
WASHINGTON >> Rep. Anthony Weiner announced today he was entering professional treatment at an undisclosed location and requested a leave of absence from Congress as he faced growing pressure from fellow Democrats to resign in a sexting scandal,.
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, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a written statement calling for the 46-year-old married lawmaker 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."
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 New York Democratic Rep. Steve Israel, 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, the former House Speaker, also spoke with Weiner during the day to let him know that she, too, would be joining the calls for his resignation.
The developments occurred one day after Weiner acknowledged he had exchanged online messages with a 17-year-old girl in the state of Delaware. He said nothing improper had passed between the two of them.
Democrats said the concerted call for Weiner's 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. Democrats hope to rebound from a devastating election last November in which the Republicans gained control of the House.
"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. The Republicans have proposed major cuts in the government-run Medicare program providing health care coverage to the elderly.
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's 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 New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the state's dominant Democrat, maintained a public silence after an initial statement issued on Monday.
Until disclosing he was seeking treatment, Weiner had been adamant that he would not quit Congress and was planning to return to work with the new week.
Earlier Saturday, he said his conduct involved "personal failings" and that he would try not to let them get in the way of his "professional work."
Weiner is married to Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Abedin is pregnant with the couple's first child. She is traveling with Clinton in Africa until the middle of next week.
Before Saturday's developments, at least nine Democratic House members and three senators said Weiner should resign.