Democrats Tired of Weiner Distraction

For Democrats, the message was too important to support N.Y. lawmaker.

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Nancy Pelosi didn't lose her cool, but her frustration level was clearly rising. The House minority leader was addressing the media during her weekly press conference, but her appearance came only minutes after news broke that Rep. Anthony Weiner, the embattled New York Democrat, would be stepping down. Pelosi had hoped to push a Democratic bill on Chinese currency manipulation, but the larger-than-usual crowd of reporters and cameras had other plans.

Pelosi told the crowd she wouldn't talk about Weiner until he had made his announcement on Thursday afternoon, but the questions came anyway. "Perhaps I was unclear," she responded, reiterating the refusal. Reporters tried different tacks--would she comment on congressional ethics, generally? "No." Ultimately, the press conference was dominated by questions about Weiner and the congressional showdown over the conflict in Libya, with only one jobs-related question and none at all about currency manipulation. At one point, Pelosi admonished the press corps to keep the economy in mind. "We will not be deterred from our quest for jobs, and I wish that the ardor for information on our job issue was as strong as it was for this subject," Pelosi said. [Vote now: Is Weiner's political career over for good?]

And that, in a nutshell, was why Weiner became too much of a liability for the Democrats to be able to survive the scandal. When he admitted a week and a half ago that he had meant to send a female supporter a lewd picture of himself, it didn't seem out of the question that he might be able to hang on. It wasn't clear that he had done anything illegal or against the congressional rules of ethics, and other representatives, such as fellow New Yorker Charlie Rangel, had survived much worse. But with today's rowdy, uncontrollable Internet media environment, the Democratic Party simply couldn't afford to have the ethically compromised congressman continue to blunt whatever political momentum they had gained from the New York 26th special election, and the voter dissatisfaction with the GOP's Medicare plan. Weiner, once an effective advocate for the Democratic message on cable news and the Internet, was now the biggest thing holding it back.

With voters increasingly anxious about the economy, the Washington discussion has abruptly shifted from the national debt to jobs. Early Tuesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican leadership used their weekly press conference to blast President Obama's economic performance at the one-year anniversary of his "Summer of Recovery," but barely made a mention of the deficit, the GOP's one-time talking point. For Boehner, the Weiner issue proved to be an annoyance as well. Without commenting directly on the issue, Boehner said, "It's just been a distraction. [Voters] want us to focus on job creation." [Read: Little Evidence Weiner Broke Law in Twitter Photo Scandal.]

Pelosi, along with virtually all of the Democratic House leadership members and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had called for Weiner to step down. Obama stopped short of calling for his resignation, but claimed that, if he were in Weiner's shoes, he would step down. Weiner himself, in announcing his resignation, claimed the scandal had become too much of a distraction from the issues he cares about.