WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner defied calls on Saturday from party leaders to resign and said he would instead seek treatment and a leave of absence after being snared in an Internet sex scandal.
The 46-year-old New York congressman announced his plans shortly after House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi publicly urged him to go for help, but also to step down.
Weiner’s determination to remain, bolstered by support from his New York City constituents, has angered Democrats, who say his inappropriate online exchanges with women have hurt the party as it seeks to regain control of the House of Representatives from Republicans in next year’s elections.
In a brief statement, the congressman’s spokeswoman, Risa Heller, indicated Weiner would remain in office at least until he receives professional help at an undisclosed facility.
“Congressman Weiner departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person,” Heller said.
“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.”
“Congressman Weiner ... has determined that he needs this time to get healthy and make the best decision possible for himself, his family and his constituents,” Heller said.
Earlier on Saturday, Pelosi and other House Democrats called on Weiner to step down, frustrated by his refusal to step aside after admitting on Monday to inappropriate Internet relations with at least six women.
Democrats appeared to coordinate their statements to add pressure on Weiner, a seven-term lawmaker, to resign for sending lewd pictures of himself to women and then lying about it.
“Congressman Weiner has the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents, and the recognition that he needs help,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“I urge Congressman Weiner to seek that help without the pressures of being a Member of Congress,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi issued her statement after she was made aware of Weiner’s “intention to take a leave of absence in order to seek treatment,” an aide said.
The aide added that Pelosi agreed with Weiner he needed help, but also believed he should resign immediately.
It is unclear how long Weiner can hang on. He says while his behavior was wrong, he violated no laws.
Generally, all it takes to get a leave of absence, as Weiner plans to do, is to formally advise the House speaker. “You ask for it, you get it,” an aide said.
Pelosi has requested an ethics investigation to determine what, if any, House rules Weiner may have broke in his Internet exchanges. Such a probe could take months, even up to a year.
Democratic Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and House Democratic campaign committee chair Steve Israel were among the other party leaders on Saturday to call on Weiner to resign.
“This sordid affair has become an unacceptable distraction for Representative Weiner, his family, his constituents and the House - and for the good of all, he should step aside and address those things that should be most important - his and his family’s well-being,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Assistant House Democratic Leader James Clyburn repeated his call for all House Democrats to address the issue when the House returns next week from a one-week recess.
A Democratic aide said they could pass a resolution urging Weiner to resign. While it would not be binding, it would show that Weiner faces a solid wall of opposition in his own party.
A poll this week found support for Weiner among his constituents.
According to a NY1-Marist poll, 56 percent of adults in his district believed he should stay in office, while 33 percent said he should quit.
The telephone survey of 512 adults was conducted on Wednesday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Patrick Egan, a political science professor at New York University, said the poll results were not particularly surprising. “This isn’t Kansas, Utah or Alabama. This is New York where people are more forgiving of such things,” he said.
“New Yorkers tend to like their politicians brash and with big personalities, and Anthony Weiner certainly fills those shoes,” Egan said of the fiery liberal, who was re-elected last November with 61 percent of the vote.
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Todd Eastham and Peter Cooney