President Barack Obama ramped up pressure on Monday on Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner to step down, calling his scandal a distraction from the work that Washington needs to get done.
“I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign,” Obama told NBC News shortly before the House of Representatives, without opposition, granted Weiner a two-week leave of absence while the New York congressman gets professional treatment.
Weiner, 46, has defied mounting calls from other leaders of his own party to step down.
Weiner’s refusal to resign has angered Democrats, who say his scandal has hurt the party as it looks ahead toward next year’s elections when it will seek to win back the House from Republicans.
The congressman said through an aide over the weekend that rather than immediately step down he would seek a leave of absence from the House and treatment at an undisclosed facility.
“We think this is a distraction obviously from the important business that this president needs to conduct and Congress needs to conduct,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama headed to North Carolina to talk to business leaders about invigorating the conomy.
Later Monday, Obama told NBC, when asked about Weiner, “Public service is exactly that, it’s a service to the public.”
“When you get to the point where — because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively as you need to at the time when people are worrying about jobs, and their mortgages, and paying the bills — then you should probably step back,” the president said in his first comments on the matter.
Obama’s trip on Monday to North Carolina was part of a stepped-up effort by the White House to show voters that he remains focused on job creation.
With the White House accusing Weiner of being an unwarranted distraction for the president, the fiery liberal may find it difficult to stay on.
Weiner was re-elected last November with 61 percent of the vote in his congressional district.
It is unclear what, if anything, Congress can do to force Weiner to step down. A poll last week showed that most of his constituents think he should remain in his job.
The full House could vote to expel Weiner. But such punishment would be highly unusual unless it is found that he violated criminal law, not just the chamber’s rules.
The House returned on Monday from a week-long recess, and the chamber’s Democrats were to meet today, with Weiner likely a chief topic.
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.
The Democratic caucus could also strip Weiner of his committee assignments and even tell him that he is no longer welcome at their meetings, the aide said. He now serves on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has requested an ethics probe to determine what, if any, House rules Weiner may have broken. The probe could take months, even up to a year.