WASHINGTON — Fellow Democrats pointedly refused to defend Rep. Anthony Weiner on Tuesday, telegraphing an unmistakable eagerness for him to resign after he admitted sending a lewd photo of himself to a woman via Twitter and lying about it.
Republicans swiftly sought political profit from the New York Democrat's predicament, which threatened to deepen when conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart said he had a sexually explicit photo of the 46-year-old congressman.
His political career in extreme jeopardy, Weiner had no public appearances. His spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
On Monday, after days of denials, the New York lawmaker admitted he had engaged in "several inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, email and occasionally on the phone with women I had met online."
Alternately apologetic and defiant, he said he neither met nor had physical relationships with any of them, and added, "I am not resigning."
In fact, there is little that party leaders can do to force an errant lawmaker to quit, although House Republicans have moved decisively in the past year to purge their ranks of two men who wound up in embarrassing situations.
Most Democrats maintained an uncomfortable silence about Weiner's future, part of what several senior congressional officials described as a hope that over a few days, Weiner would reconsider his refusal to resign. If not, several noted pointedly, his district might be eliminated when lines are adjusted before the 2012 elections to account for a population shift that will cost New York two House seats.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke the silence.
"I wish there were some way that I can defend him, but I can't," the Nevada Democrat told reporters. Asked what he would do if Weiner called for advice, he replied he would tell him "call somebody else."
Republicans sought political gain.
"Congressman Weiner's actions and deception are unacceptable and he should resign," GOP chairman Reince Priebus said in a written statement.
"We do not need an investigation to know he lied and acted inappropriately, we need a resignation," he said, referring to a request from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for the House ethics committee to investigate the case.
Speaking of Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the Democratic party chairwoman, Priebus said they either "believe members of Congress are held to a different set of standards or they believe these actions demand his resignation."
Brad Woodhouse, a Democratic National Committee spokesman, referred a request for a comment to Wasserman Schultz's House office. He said the issue was a congressional one, but her spokesman declined comment on whether Weiner should resign.
Separately, the Republican House and Senate campaign organizations called on Democrats to return donations Weiner had made to them.
"Does ... Democrat Senate candidate Joe Donnelly, (D-IN) plan to return the $5,000 he took from his friend Weiner in order to fund his political campaigns?" asked the National Republican Senatorial Committee. There was no immediate reply from Donnelly, a second-term House member who recently announced he would run for the Senate in 2012.
In the House, Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio said through an aide she would donate to charity a $1,000 contribution she received from Weiner last year.
Demanding the return of cash from troubled donors has become a standard political tactic in recent years, practiced by both parties.
But the other facts in Weiner's case were anything but routine.
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