WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders on Sunday urged embattled Rep. Anthony Weiner to quit because of his sex texting scandal, a request the New York lawmaker has sidestepped in favor of a temporary leave of absence to undergo treatment.
The Republican Party chairman criticized Democratic leaders for not taking a more forceful stand earlier on the affair, which has overshadowed much of the legislative business on Capitol Hill over the past week.
Weiner has acknowledged exchanging messages and photos ranging from sexually suggestive to explicit with several women online, and the latest to surface appeared on the entertainment website TMZ.
The photos posted Sunday were purportedly taken in the House members' gym and show a shirt-less Weiner with a towel around his waist and his hand on his crotch. TMZ said the photos were sent online to at least one woman.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, spoke of Weiner's "bizarre and unacceptable behavior" in texting inappropriate pictures of himself to young women. Hoyer said it would be "extraordinarily difficult" for Weiner to continue to represent his constituents effectively.
Weiner announced Saturday that he was entering professional treatment at an undisclosed location and wanted a leave of absence from Congress. A statement from an aide did not say where he would receive treatment or what type was involved.
That announcement came right after House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the national party head, said Weiner must go.
Weiner acknowledged at a news conference last Monday that he had lied in previously saying that he had not sent any photos. Pelosi immediately called for an ethics committee investigation. But it was not until the weekend that Democratic leaders said he should step down.
Hoyer said the ethics committee process to decide if Weiner had committed an expellable offense would take time and "I really don't know if we have that time." He said he didn't see how Weiner could stay in office.
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan said Weiner should resign. "We've got important work to do and this is a ridiculous distraction," he said in an appearance with Hoyer on "Face the Nation" on CBS television.
Republicans for the most part have stayed out of the debate over Weiner's future. But on NBC's "Meet the Press," Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus criticized Pelosi and other Democrats for not acting sooner.
"It seemed to me that for the first 10 days in this circus that the only job that Nancy Pelosi was interested in saving was Anthony Weiner's," he said.
That drew a sharp retort from Wasserman Schultz, who accused Republicans of a double standard.
She said that Republican leaders didn't call for the resignation of Louisiana Sen. David Vitter when he got caught up in a prostitution scandal, and that Priebus had not publicly sought the resignation of former Nevada Sen. John Ensign, who stepped down this year over an affair with a staffer's wife.
Wasserman Schultz said party officials initially gave Weiner "some breathing room" to reach the conclusion that he needed to step down on his own, but that the leadership decided to toughen their stance Saturday after it became apparent he would not do so.