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ANALYSIS

Just What Congress Needs

Another sex scandal erupts in the midst of the budget fight.

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Rep. David Wu's antics aren't helping Congress's reputation.(Photo via Seattle Weekly)

Republicans and Democrats couldn’t get together on the $14.3 trillion federal borrowing limit, Norway suffered its own 9/11-type horror, and Washington faced a triple-digit heat index.

It's a indication of the increasingly sad and bizarre career trajectory of Rep. David Wu, that all of this was good news for the Oregon Democrat, because the fixation on bigger crises diverted attention from what normally would be headline-dominating news: An accusation that he was the aggressor in an “unwanted sexual encounter” with a teenage girl.

 

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Word came out Sunday night that Wu would not run for an eighth term and was under pressure from the Democratic leadership – perhaps fed up with members venturing past PG-13 and, potentially in Wu’s case, into criminality – to resign. Wu said he would resign on Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would ask the House Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations, noting her “deep disappointment and sadness.” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., called the accusations “extremely serious and disturbing.” Wu’s response to the obvious nudge toward the door was to go to the bunker.

 

“We’re still waiting to get word from the congressman about what his next steps are and hear what his response to the allegations are ... before we determine what our next steps are.,” Oregon Democratic Party Executive Director Trent Lutz told National Journal on Monday.

They won't wait long, however. Beaver State Democrats have already started moving against Wu. Democrats in Washington County, the district's largest, will likely take up a no-confidence vote on Wednesday, Lutz said, adding that the state central committee could undertake a similar measure at its August 7 meeting.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state Rep. Brad Witt have already announced plans to enter the Democratic primary, and Lutz predicted that others may jump in.

Unlike the case of ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., the flamboyant Gotham House member who owned news cycle upon news cycle with his strange antics, the latest stop on Wu’s strange journey is largely obscured by pressing issues on the capital’s front burner. Even in the shallowest of news-value environments, an evidently troubled Oregon lawmaker's problems get swamped by the prospect of self-inflicted economic collapse.

 

But the specter of the nation’s leaders squabbling over how to bankroll veterans’ benefits and prevent mortgage rates from spiking, with the attendant sideshow of a tiger-costume-wearing member of Congress facing an ethics probe into alleged sexual impropriety isn't likely to boost Capitol Hill's historically low performance ratings. The latest Gallup poll gave Democrats in Congress a 33 percent approval rating and Republicans 28 percent. In an ABC/Washington Post poll last week, 63 percent of respondents said they were inclined to vote for someone other than their current representative in Congress.

To varying degrees of misbehavior, accused or proven, Wu now joins the party of Weiner; former Rep. Christopher Lee, the New York Republican who resigned after e-mailing a shirtless photo of himself; Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, whose call-girl proclivities ruined a once-promising trajectory; Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican whose career crashed and burned after men’s room allegations; and former Rep. Mark Foley, the Florida Republican who copped to inappropriate messages to House pages. It’s a long and dizzying roster.

Wu is a returnee to controversy. Last year, his staff cut off his public campaign schedule after erratic behavior, including the infamous picture of Wu in a tiger costume. Staffers and consultants quit.

On Friday, The Oregonian reported the alleged encounter last Thanksgiving between Wu and the unnamed teenage daughter of a family friend, and that the girl had called Wu’s office to report the incident. The paper reported that the she was 18 at the time of the incident.

To be certain, a back-bencher such as Wu was never going to figure prominently in the resolution, or sustainment, of the fiscal crisis. But the grotesqueness of the allegations further reinforce the public perception, lent further credence by the fiscal impasse, of the town’s dysfunction. Washington, once again, has cast itself as an unserious place beset by serious problems.

 

 

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