Embattled Wu resigns from House
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|Wed, 07-27-2011 - 9:01am|
Another one bites the dust.
The resignation of embattled Rep. David Wu rescued House Democrats from a potentially huge political problem, as the Oregon Democrat faced an ugly scandal over allegations that he had an “aggressive and unwanted sexual encounter” with a teenage girl last November.
Wu is the fourth lawmaker who has stepped down over sex-related controversies this Congress, a list that includes former Reps. Christopher Lee (R-N.Y.) and Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), as well as ex-Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).
The spate of scandals and the stunning speed with which lawmakers resign once caught reflect both the increased scrutiny lawmakers face from the media and how much more party leaders now are likely to turn on one of their own.
In Wu’s case, the scandal broke just a few months after news surfaced that he had been behaving erratically in the run-up to the midterm elections, including sending a picture of himself in a tiger costume to his staffers. More than a half-dozen aides and campaign consultants quit as Wu bombarded them with troubling phone calls and emails. Wu’s remaining staffers canceled all campaign events, relying on TV ads to win his race.
Yet Wu initially looked as if he wasn’t going to go quietly or quickly despite the stunning nature of these latest allegations. As of late Sunday night, Wu and some of his top advisers had dug in and were refusing private demands from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats to step down.
According to one of those advisers, Wu — whose reelection prospects in 2012 were already in poor shape — had decided he would not run again. Yet Wu stubbornly resisted calls to give up the House seat he has held since 1999. Wu “hasn’t done anything that rises to the level of requiring him to resign,” insisted one Wu adviser.
However, by early Tuesday, after aides to Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley told Wu’s chief of staff that they were going to publicly call for him to resign, Wu reversed course and decided to end his congressional career.
“The time has come to hand on the privilege of high office. I cannot care for my family the way I wish while serving in Congress and fighting these very serious allegations,” said the Taiwanese-born Wu in a statement released by his office.
Wu did not give a date for his departure.
“The well-being of my children must come before anything else. With great sadness, I therefore intend to resign effective upon the resolution of the debt ceiling crisis,” Wu said. “This is the right decision for my family, the institution of the House and my colleagues.”
That same Wu adviser added: “It wasn’t any one thing, just the realization it was going to come to resignation, so why put it off any longer?”
Key to getting Wu to agree to depart was Connecticut Rep. John Larson, chairman of the Democratic Caucus. Larson, who won his first House election the same year as Wu, never asked his longtime colleague to resign.
Instead, Larson “spent hours talking to Wu about doing the right thing,” said a top Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Larson told him it was only going to get worse and he had to be prepared to deal with that.”
Pelosi and New York Rep. Steve Israel badly wanted Wu out, and they told him so in phone calls over the weekend.
But Pelosi and Israel refused to make their demands public, only calling for an immediate Ethics Committee investigation into the sexual encounter with the young woman, the daughter of a longtime friend of Wu’s.
That encounter was first reported by The Oregonian on Friday. The woman was only 18 at the time, and she left an emotional voice mail in Wu’s congressional office in May alleging what some sources familiar with the message called “disgusting and appalling” behavior by the 56-year-old Wu. Wu told his aides that the two had consensual sex, but the teenager offered a dramatic refutation of that claim in her voice mail, said the sources.
A criminal complaint has not been filed against Wu.
With controversy swirling around him, Larson huddled with Wu for 40 minutes on Monday inside the Democratic Cloakroom off the House floor as the veteran lawmaker considered whether resignation was his best move.
“Yesterday he didn’t say what he was going to do; he was pondering his options,” said Larson of his sit-down with Wu. “The more [Wu] thought about it, he felt he was better able to serve [his children]” by resigning.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who rescued Wu from a gaggle of reporters Monday, described his colleague as “reflective” when the two went out to dinner that night.
Wu has a history of sexually aggressive behavior toward women, which further undermined his credibility on and off Capitol Hill.
He was accused of attempted rape in 1976 by a former girlfriend, although no criminal charges were filed. Wu was attending Stanford University at the time, as was the woman. Wu was ordered to receive counseling and was disciplined by the university, and he privately apologized to the woman. The allegations became public shortly before the 2004 elections.