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Representative Anthony Weiner has been apologizing for sending a lewd photo via twitter and then lying about it. Sadly, the episode doesn’t feel all that shocking. The pattern is familiar. Yet, for many it’s another blow to hopes that people in politics will adhere to a higher ethical standard despite abundant evidence to the contrary. This latest impropriety adds to the frustration that many already feel over the ongoing political gridlock in Washington. Join us for a conversation about voter reaction to this latest scandal and what’s wrong with Washington
- Charlie Cook Editor and publisher of the "Cook Political Report"
- Ruth Marcus Columnist and editorial writer, The Washington Post.
- Melanie Sloan Executive director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
- Jennifer Preston Reporter, New York Times
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Some congressional Democrats have joined Republicans in calling for Rep. Anthony Weiner to step down. Allegations and details of graphic messages he sent online continue to emerge. Joining me to talk about this scandal and its implications, if any, for Congress more generally, Ruth Marcus, columnist and editorial writer for The Washington Post, Charlie Cook -- he's editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report -- and Melanie Sloan.
MS. DIANE REHMShe is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. RUTH MARCUSGood morning.
MR. CHARLIE COOKGood morning.
MS. MELANIE SLOANGood morning.
REHMCharlie Cook, Republicans are -- and now quite a few Democrats -- calling for Congressman Weiner to step down. Do you think he will?
COOKI don't know what Congressman Weiner is going to do. I -- my gut tells me he probably will. But what you're seeing -- and this is across the board -- is, you know, Congress is held in pretty much historic low regard with the American people. And when someone does something -- when any member, Democrat or Republican, does something like this, it just brings shame and disrepute on the institution.
COOKIt hurts every single one of them individually. It just -- this stuff is projected on all of them. And that's why, I think, they need to -- the leaderships need to be very, very aggressive. And you remember when you had a somewhat comparable incident a few months ago with Chris Lee, a Republican congressman from New York, who was sending out shirtless pictures of himself to women, that, you know, Speaker Boehner basically said, you're gone.
COOKAnd he was gone by sundown and nipped the story in the bud. It didn't directly...
REHMSo why hasn't it happened in this case?
COOKFor whatever reason, I think Minority Leader Pelosi is just not -- you know, she wasn't particularly tough on Rangel and -- Charlie Rangel and not to -- I mean, I think he just -- I mean, I think Boehner saw what happened to the Republican Party with the Mark Foley thing, where they basically enabled him. They protected him. They covered for him. And they lost their majority as a result.
COOKAnd I think he learned a lesson. And now, he just doesn't have a lot of tolerance for this stuff.
REHMRuth Marcus, you think that Congressman Weiner probably should step down. Tell us why.
MARCUSWell, I've actually never said that publicly, but I do think he should step down for all of the reasons Charlie said. The -- they're -- this kind of conduct and the other (word?), and now the list is just getting too long to even reel it off. Sex scandals alone in the House have just become so much that the public, I think, is convinced that it's like "Animal House" and not the House of Representatives. It's not.
MARCUSI think most of them are serious, hard working people who shuttle back and forth between their families and their office. And their life may seem glamorous from the outside, but it's kind of slug from the inside. But then you have incident after incident. And there is a clause in the ethics rules of the House that talk about bringing disrepute on the House. And, boy, if this didn't do it, I don't know what did.
REHMMelanie, how about you?
SLOANI think that there is -- I find it hard to understand the incredibly tough reaction to Congressman Weiner versus the reaction to other scandals that, I think, are more serious. So many more people, for example, are calling for Rep. Weiner's resignation than did with Charlie Rangel's. And Charlie Rangel was the first member who was censured by the full House in over 25 years. And yet very few people talked about the need for him to resign.
SLOANI also think that they're setting up a dangerous standard. If anytime a member is found to have engaged in any kind of sexual impropriety, they're going to be automatically out. Truthfully, that's going to be a lot of members.
REHMSo what's different here, if anything? Charlie, if you can take Melanie's point of view here, does this one look different from any of the others?
COOKWell, first of all, I -- first of all, I think -- I remember quite a few members calling for Charlie Rangel -- now, they were all Republicans, but I think there was a lot of people that thought that Charlie Rangel should leave, you know? And a lot of people have thought that maybe it would be better if he resigned, you know, rather than be expelled. I mean, expulsion is not -- I mean, there have only been five House members in American history expelled.
COOKAnd three of them were southern sympathizers during the Civil War. I mean, expulsion is not -- I mean, that's just not a -- but most -- a lot of people resign under a lot of pressure. And, frankly, there were, I think, a lot of members on both sides that at least privately and a lot -- quite a few Republicans publicly that said that Charlie Rangel should've resigned. But the thing about it is -- this -- because this reflects on all.
COOKNow, the thing is, any slight sexual discretion -- no, but this guy, he was chronically lying. He, you know, he called a TV producer a jackass, was -- I mean, you know, it -- this, I think -- you know, he's not a credit to...
COOK...he is not a credit to the institution.
SLOANYou know, and I'll certainly agree with that, that he's not a credit to the institution. But these calls for his resignation, especially by Republicans who I don't hear most of them saying that Newt Gingrich, for example, shouldn't be running for president, despite the fact that he had a six-year affair with a staffer when he was married. And to my mind, that's a pretty serious instance of wrongdoing.
MARCUSWell, a couple of things. First of all, we do have standards changing over time, and conduct that wouldn't have ended up in calls for your resignation maybe 20 or 30 years ago certainly can end up in calls for your resignation now. Second of all, Weiner has two problems. The first is this, you know, absolutely outrageous, irresponsible, juvenile conduct that not only occurred but has now splashed out for anybody who wants to do a little bit of Internet trolling.
MARCUSCharlie is too mature and serious a person to have read some of these text messages.
COOKNo. This stuff just makes me sick, and I just...
MARCUSBut I have, and it's really revolting. So that's the difference. And the third thing is that I would actually argue that the real counterexample is Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, whose name was the on the list of clients of the D.C. Madam. Well, his constituents re-elected him. But, really, that is a crime that he apparently participated in. And he should be gone, too.
MARCUSI would argue that Weiner's conduct is way worse on some levels than Charlie Rangel's, which was sloppiness and sort of abuse of his power, but in a way that's not so different from what other people have done in raising money. Nobody -- no employer in America would have somebody like Anthony Weiner doing what he did on his staff.
MARCUSHe's done a huge service, by the way, to the parents of teenagers in America who can now show their kids, as I did mine, and say, look, if it's on the Internet, it's public. Don't do it.
SLOANAgain, I'm not defending Anthony Weiner, but I will say that it just seems like we're taking such a strong stand against this when I would say that what Charlie Rangel did is, in fact, far more serious. I'm far more concerned with members of Congress who abuse their position for their own financial gain, for the financial gain for someone else, or abuse their position in some other way. You know, we haven't heard very many calls, for example, for Maxine Waters' resignation.
SLOANMaxine Waters is alleged to have used her position to contact the Treasury Department on behalf of a bank in which her husband had a financial interest, and, again, it just seems to me that there needs to be some kind of more consistent standard. And sexual improprieties alone are not the most -- I mean, I'm not defending them. But they're not the most serious thing a member of Congress can do.
REHMIt's an interesting point, that sexual improprieties versus financial improprieties. Where do you all come out?
MARCUSLook, there's one other aspect to the Weiner affair, which is the out-and-out lying. He did something really stupid. All of us in our lives have done stupid things, though perhaps not that stupid. And then when he was caught, he did what, I guess, people instinctively do. He lied about it, and that got him caught in more and more lies. And you really cannot have a public official who is such an admitted out-and-out liar.
REHMAnd that's where the question of reflection on other members of Congress comes in.
COOKAnd to me, these things are not individual -- there is a cumulative impact. And the more -- the lower regard Congress is held in from the public, I think the higher the standards need to be to correct for that. And the thing about it is, I mean, I think David Vitter is kind of the patron saint for bad behavior because he toughed it out.
COOKIf you're willing to tough it out, have -- if -- have a shell around you and just not care what people are saying or looking -- or the dirty looks, tough it out. You can survive. And so that's why, you know, Weiner might say, you know, if I just hunker down, maybe I can survive this. David Vitter did. But the thing is it didn't, you know, keeping Vitter in didn't help Congress, and keeping Weiner in doesn't help Congress.
COOKThey've got to do -- they've got to take stronger stands. And whether it's the financial side, as Melanie is talking about, or the sexual side that Ruth's -- I mean, they just need to draw higher standards and restore some confidence 'cause the American people have no confidence in this Congress to deal with the budget, the debt ceiling, the debt. I mean, they have no confidence in them on anything.
REHMAre you suggesting that this, in fact, could help sort of bring members of Congress to a better understanding of the standards that they should be representing, Melanie?
SLOANWell, I don't know if that will happen. I mean, you know, when we talk about Anthony Weiner should be gone perhaps because he's lied. Well, certainly, what, none of us have ever heard a politician lie before? In fact, most recently, Tom Coburn was lying at great length and to the press about his role in covering up the John Ensign affair. And, again, no one is suggesting that Tom Coburn resign because of his lies.
SLOANAnd they were the same kind of lies to the press. They were all proven not to be true eventually by the Senate Ethics Committee report. But I do agree with Charlie particularly that this kind of thing distracts us from the serious and very important issues. And this is really so minor in the scheme of things. I thought it was just appalling when, on CNN the other day, they covered the Weiner press coverage, which of course, you know, in some respects, they had to.
SLOANBut they said, well, we're not going to talk about the five Iraq -- five Americans killed in Iraq because we're so busy with this. When you weigh these things, it's obvious that this is less important.
REHMMelanie Sloan, she is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government. The phones are open. I'd like to hear your thoughts, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd joining us now by phone is Jennifer Preston. She is a reporter with The New York Times. Good morning to you, Jennifer.
MS. JENNIFER PRESTONGood morning, Diane.
REHMIn a piece for The New York Times yesterday, you talked about how, in a way, Congressman Weiner should have known he was being closely tracked. Tell us about that.
PRESTONWell, about three months ago, there was a small group of determined self-described conservatives who had noticed that he was following young women and that young women were commenting about their conversations with Rep. Weiner.
PRESTONAnd one of those women, of course, we now know, is Ginger Lee, who is the stripper from Tennessee. So the small group of conservatives -- and originally they tell me they were interested in Mr. Weiner because he's a fierce, you know, proponent for President Obama's health care plan. They began talking about these interactions among each other, and they copied Mr. Weiner on all of their discussions.
REHMThey copied him, so he knew full well he was being tracked. And yet he continued.
PRESTONWell, in addition, this group also took it upon themselves to warn some of these young women about Mr. Weiner following young girls. And they showed particular concern about a couple of very young girls who Mr. Weiner was following. But what was really interesting, Diane, is when they did raise their concerns about particular young women, Mr. Weiner would stop following that person a day or two later. So, clearly, he was aware of their actions.
REHMJennifer Preston, she is a reporter for The New York Times. Thanks for joining us.
REHMAnd, Charlie Cook, I want to ask you, what are the lessons here for the 2012 campaign for politicians in general?
COOKI'm wondering whether we may have the first bipartisan anti-incumbent election. And what I mean by that is that, typically, when you see a lot of incumbents being thrown out -- U.S. House incumbents -- they're overwhelmingly of one party. And, in fact, going back to -- as far back as vital statistics books goes, 1954, only once have we ever had double-digit incumbents in both parties lost -- in other words, 10 or more.
COOKUsually, it might be 10, 15, 20, as high as 38 incumbents lose on one side, but generally just two or three or four from the other side, where it's partisan. It's not across the board. Only once in 1992 have you had 10 or more incumbents of both parties. And it wasn't a huge number then. But the thing is, after having -- you had 2006, 2008 where voters just kicked the hell out of Republicans in those two elections.
COOKThen in 2010, they kicked the hell out of Democrats. And as far as they are concerned right now, things have gotten worse, not better. And so if they kicked out one party and it doesn't do any good, they kicked the hell out of the other party. It doesn't do any good. At some point, I think they start becoming indiscriminate, and you just start seeing a lot of incumbents going out the windows.
COOKAnd some wear red jerseys, and some wear blue jerseys. I think that could be where we're headed with this.
REHMHere's an email from Reba, who says, "With all due respect to your guests, I suggest most Americans find Congress disgraceful not because of member sexual peccadilloes, but because it fails to function as a legislative body. Congress stopped functioning after the 2008 elections. And while Republicans are obstructionists, Democrats are inert and doing nothing but feathering their own nests."
REHM"All of the moral outrage in the world will not restore confidence in Washington. They collectively should do their jobs and restore this branch of government." Ruth Marcus.
MARCUSWell, I think some people would date the dysfunctionality of Congress to prior to 2008. There's a lot of dysfunctionality that's happened before that. I do think that the sexual misconduct is just a piece of a larger narrative, the sort of ""Animal House"" narrative that people perceive of the whole Congress just functioning in an out-of-control fashion. To Charlie's incumbency point -- and he knows more than anybody about the inherent advantages of incumbency.
MARCUSBut one thing I wonder is whether there's going to be an interesting Year of the Woman effect, possibly, especially if you have women challenging incumbents. Maybe, just maybe, voters will think, well, at least historically, those ones on the sexual side at least -- and I take Melanie's point about Maxine Waters and others -- have not shown themselves to be quite as out of control as the guys have.
REHMHere's an email from Sarah, who says, "There's no mystery here. The political environment merely reflects a lack of personal responsibility and consequences within American society. Skilled athletes at all levels, given a free pass for bad behavior, school kids, more than ever, have over-involved parents who call schools to challenge undesirable grades. Moreover, kids are bequeathed self-esteem and accomplishments for non -- compliments for non-accomplishments."
REHMHave we become a too-accepting society and it's reflected in what's happening in the Congress? Melanie.
SLOANYou know, in some respects, the other part of that problem is that we just report on it a lot more. It's not really that this kind of sexual misconduct is so new. We can look to the Kennedy administration, for example, with what we've discovered later to find out exactly the kind of antics that President Kennedy was involved in, which would certainly be not tolerated now. But for many years, the press didn't cover episodes like that. Sexual misconduct was considered private, and so Americans didn't know about it.
REHMCharlie Cook, take us back to Wilbur Mills and Fanne Foxe. What happened there?
COOKYeah, where you had the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee having a relationship with Argentine bombshell, right, Fanne Foxe -- or Fanne -- not Fanne Foxe.
MARCUSFanne Foxe, yes.
REHMFanne Foxe, yeah.
COOKFanne Foxe, yeah. I was trying to confuse the comedian. But -- and they took a little -- she took a little dip in the Tidal Basin. Now, we've had sexual peccadilloes for years...
REHMBut what happened to him?
COOKOh, actually, I think he eventually -- he retired. I don't think he lost.
MARCUSBut he didn't lose over that.
MARCUSHe actually left later.
MARCUSHe had some drinking problems...
COOKNo. A lot of the times these things kind of sort themselves over time. But, no, this -- the thing is, if the budget were balanced, if we didn't have a massive debt problem, I mean, then these things would be entertaining, and we could talk about it. But the thing is, the problems, the challenges facing Congress are so enormous that allowing these kinds of things to bring down, to reduce confidence, it just makes it a lot worse.
COOKAnd I think we should be even sort of tighter. And whether it's on the financial side, as Melanie says, or the sexual side, they just need to...
REHMBut in a sense, it's gone the opposite direction. We've become more tolerant even as Congress ceases to function. Ruth.
MARCUSWell, more and also less. I think that some of the ethics scandals on -- especially on the financial side, where people have gotten into trouble for misconduct in raising funds, misconduct in raising funds for their leadership institutes and charities and things like that, actually do reflect a tightening of standards. I think one other thing that is going on that plays into the sexual scandals is the changing nature of the mechanism for sexual misconduct, which is to say we now have a lot more evidence.
MARCUSAnd also the medium of Twitter and Facebook and email and instant message is also -- it's both the misconduct itself, and it's the evidence of the misconduct. So it's so much easier to -- as Weiner has shown, to get yourself in trouble.
REHMOf course, we didn't need Twitter. We didn't need Facebook. We didn't need anything to realize what John Edwards was up to. And he was lying through his teeth straight from the time he announced with the support of his wife.
MARCUSRight, and that's inexcusable as well, although I would argue, again, not criminal. And Mr. Edwards has since been indicted. You know, I do think there's something. We should go back to one of Charlie's points, which was that they should be focused on more serious things. And Weiner distracts from that. But, you know, even without that, they don't focus on serious things.
MARCUSLike, we had this huge budget debate, and it became about Planned Parenthood. I mean, we have huge issues, and they always reduce it to some easy soundbite that is directed at a very small group of supporters. And it seems that Congress repeatedly refuses to take the really serious matters of this country, the issues we're facing, as seriously as it should.
COOKWell, I think part of it also is, though, that there's just a total lack of -- I mean, what we have is the American people are getting half-truths from both sides. I mean, neither side is really leveling with the American people. And each are -- each carefully offer up cherry-picked arguments that support half of a solution. And, you know, the fact is we have to do something about domestic -- deep domestic spending cuts.
COOKWe have to do something about (unintelligible). We need to raise taxes. We have to do all these things. But the thing is each side sort of pretends that only half the solutions are necessary. And this problem is so colossal. But there's a lack of confidence. Nobody wants to believe what -- I mean, and have good reason not to believe what these -- what most (unintelligible) are telling them. And this stuff just exacerbates it.
MARCUSI think the John Edwards' point that Melanie raises brings up a really important distinction. Melanie and I are in agreement about John Edwards, which is we've both been very critical of the criminal charges against him. I don't think this rises to the level of criminal charges. At the same time, if he were a sitting senator still, I think he should be out on his bum because he is a bum -- as I said the other day, pond scum.
MARCUSThe standard for criminal indictment is different from the standard for should you still be a member of Congress or any other elected body.
REHMCongress. All right. Let's go now to Carrboro, N.C. Good morning, Chris.
CHRISHi. Thanks for taking my call.
CHRISI'm really a big fan of your show. You've told me a lot over the years. I want to just posit that this is a massive diversion, like Charlie was saying, a massive diversion from real problems. But everything in the world is more important than anything that Weiner has been accused of or proved of doing. Unless he did this with a minor, unless he committed some sort of crime, his sex life is absolutely nobody else's business except him, his wife and his family and the people involved.
MARCUSWell, I guess, I have to say I don't agree. One of the things that's interesting, and what Jennifer was talking about in the interview, about the warnings that he got, he alluded to that in his press conference. He said, I knew when I was doing this -- I would say to myself, you're making a mistake. You're going to get caught. He opened himself up to all sorts of potential blackmail and other situations.
MARCUSAnd he behaved -- because what's on the internet is -- does have the risk of becoming public, he just behaved in such an irresponsible way. He, unfortunately, made it our business.
REHMRuth Marcus of The Washington Post. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Charlie, you wanted to add to that.
COOKYeah, I mean, as Ruth pointed out earlier, one of the basic rules of the House is about bringing the House into disrepute. And the thing is there is a collective obligation of members of Congress not to open up the House for ridicule, not to bring shame on the institution. And that is just not enforced nearly enough.
COOKAnd so I, you know, if everything were great, then I would probably agree with the caller because I don't really care about his sex life. But the thing about it is, if it makes -- if it undercuts the credibility of the institution, an institution that has virtually none anyway, to me, that's very damaging.
REHMLet's hear another view from Henry in Margate, Fla. Good morning.
HENRYYes. Thank you for taking my call.
HENRYThe members of the media have no credibility whatsoever. And nobody made you the moral police, okay? Now, I wish Congressman Weiner had never lied. He should stand his ground, tell members of the media, you know what, take a hike. This is between my wife, myself, the person involved, and he should tell the Democrats, you know what, I am staying in office until the people in my district kick me out.
HENRYAnd if they want me back, I will come back. The Republicans who are calling for his resignation never said a word when Sen. Vitter was running around with prostitutes. Who are they now to be calling on this man to resign? Thank you very much.
COOKWell, a lot of people called on Vitter to resign. And you know what I'd say? Okay, fine, you want to stick around? We'll have a box for you out in the parking lot. You don't have an office anymore. You don't have committee assignments anymore. You know, you want to bring ridicule on this institution, fine. But you can do it out in the parking lot, you know, behind the old immigration building (unintelligible).
REHMBut there is no leadership to do what you're talking about, Charlie.
COOKI don't know. Boehner did it with Chris Lee.
REHMThat's on the Republican side. Have we got Nancy Pelosi willing to put her foot down?
MARCUSWell, I'm not sure, I think, he should be moved to the parking lot. He has actually taken the caller's advice and said, I'm going to tough it out. We'll see if that works. I'm not sure they can say that they think he ought to go. I'm not sure they ought to be...
REHMOh, I think they've said that, haven't they?
MARCUSWell, I think they've made it pretty clear.
COOKSome have said that.
MARCUSBut the former speaker, the minority leader, has not said he should go, but she has expressed her displeasure in no one's certain terms.
SLOANWell, first, Speaker Boehner has put his foot down, and he has said there will be a zero tolerance for ethics issues. The Republicans lost in 2006, not only because of Mark Foley but also because of the Jack Abramoff scandal. And I have to credit Boehner with recognizing that he doesn't want to fall victim to the same culture of corruption issues that the party -- the Republican Party did in 2006.
SLOANAnd I do think Nancy Pelosi has had a tougher time because a lot of the problems recently have been with her membership. But on the other hand, I'm not sure that Democrats as easily just follow their leadership and say, okay, I'll leave...
SLOAN...if the leadership says you're gone, like Republicans do.
REHMI've talked to a number or friends in New York who thought that Congressman Weiner would be a great candidate for mayor. What happens if he does step down, Charlie?
COOKWell, I mean, he's -- I think his political career is over. I mean, so whether, you know, whether he wants to kind of hang tough and stick it out or not, you know, clearly, he's not moving up. But I, you know, back on to the caller's point though, you know, when Nancy Pelosi said back in 2006 that we need to drain the ethical swamp, you know, you have to sort of at least make an attempt to drain the ethical -- I -- eventually, I think she's ultimately going to put her foot down and force him out. I really think she would.
REHMDo you agree with that, Ruth?
MARCUSWell, I am not sure whether she really, as for the reasons that you said, has the power to force him out. Chris Lee agreed to go quickly and therefore gracefully. Anthony Weiner's no Chris Lee.
REHMRuth Marcus of The Washington Post. Charlie Cook, he is a columnist for the National Journal. Melanie Sloan, she is with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
REHMLet's go right back to the phones to Frederick, Md. Good morning, Jo. You're on the air.
JOGood morning. Thank you. You know, my opinion of this has changed 180 degrees from when the story first broke. There was a yuck factor, but it didn't seem very important. As more news comes out, it's clear that he was using his office. He was using his position in the House of Representatives to pursue women who really did not want to be pursued, and in a very strange and weird way.
JOSo that's why I've changed my mind from thinking this is no big deal to thinking, you know, this guy has really got to go. I'd really like to not see him again.
MARCUSWell, I think yuck factor is an excellent phrase to describe this episode. But I have to say the question of misusing his office and using his power to pursue women who weren't otherwise interested in him seems to me to be a little overblown. From what I can tell, he used his personal BlackBerry, and the -- it seems like a little bit of a bootstrap argument to sort of get into the, well, maybe for 20 minutes, he used an office phone or something.
MARCUSAnd I think that the evidence also suggest that the women were pretty willing and eager participants in these interchanges. They friended him in, at least, some occasions. They were interested in participating in these things. They liked him because of his power, and so, I guess, he used it in that way. But I'm not sure this was a sort of a terrible abuse of power in the way that somebody having an affair with a subordinate on his staff would be.
REHMCharlie, given the political climate, what are the prospects for getting anything of consequence done on health care, on the debt limit, on all these other major issues that are out there?
COOKWell, I think health care, no time soon. My feeling is, you know, there's no choice. They're going to have to raise the debt ceiling. You know, there seems to be a deadline, more or less, of August 2. You know, I assume it's going to happen by then. The question is what has to happen and how horrible, you know, how horrible experience is it going to be? You know, are there going to be days where the stock market jumps up or down five, six, $700 points like it did after the House voted TARP down?
COOKYou know, I mean, I think it's going to be messy and difficult and some really scary days. But, ultimately, it's going to happen, you know. But the thing is even the debt limit debate, it goes to lack of confidence. The American people see the debt ceiling argument as saying, do we want to green light or red light more government spending? Now, the fact is raising the debt ceiling means paying off debts, money that's already been spent.
COOKI mean, it's paying off your credit card bills. It's not green lighting future purchases. But the thing about it is, it's this lack of confidence. They don't trust Congress. And so they don't trust them to authorize paying off money already spent because they think that would be interpreted as green lighting future spending.
REHMSo how much do these kinds of sexual debates sort of get in the way of Congress moving forward?
MARCUSI don't think they really do. They occupy the public mind. If I wasn't writing about Anthony Weiner this week, I'd probably be writing about the debt ceiling. But I'm going to leave here and write a column about Tim Pawlenty's economic plan, so Washington is a circus with many rings.
MARCUSAnd while we have the Anthony Weiner circus and other similar circuses going on that people are watching, in the back, backstage, there are these serious conversations going on by, at least what amounts to, grown-ups in this town. And I don't think that the Weiner episode really makes it any more less likely that we'll get the resolution that we need on the debt ceiling.
REHMAll right. To Karen in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning. You're on the air.
KARENHi. My comment was just that, you know, this does open them up to blackmail. And, also, you know, if you're married, there is a trust factor there. And this is something that impacts their families and the nation because of their position. But also, you know, we're paying for this investigation as taxpayers that Nancy Pelosi has said that is going to go forward with the ethics investigation.
KARENAnd I think that's reprehensible. He should resign and not have the taxpayers pay for this investigation when it's obvious that these things have occurred.
REHMWhat about that, Melanie?
SLOANI think it's questionable, exactly how much of an ethics investigation will be undertaken in the first place. The Ethics Committee isn't exactly known for being aggressive or hard hitting. You may remember that quite some time ago, the Ethics Committee was charged with looking into the Eric Massa affair, which was a congressman who resigned after he was found to have engaged in a sexual harassment, basically, of subordinates.
SLOANAnd they still haven't come back on that. So the other problem here is in -- that with what Weiner did, as despicable as his conduct is, it's really hard to say that he violated any specific House rules other than that he acted in a way that reflects discreditably on the House. That standard, in general, is used as a tack-on, an add-on when they find somebody has violated other specific laws or rules. Then they say that also reflects discreditably on the House.
SLOANBut, generally speaking, that is not, alone, enough to take very serious actions against a representative. At the most, I think the Ethics Committee would send him a letter of admonishment for this.
REHMAll right. To Fayetteville, N.C., on that very point. Mark, you're on the air.
MARKHi. Good morning.
MARKI just wanted to comment. First, I want to -- I am a staunch Democrat. But when I was in senior management in banking, if I had done something like this, I would have been given an opportunity to resign. And then if I didn't resign on my own, I would have been camped in a flash.
REHMSo you're saying that you think that Congress...
MARKWell, I think in any of these scandals, with Weiner's or any of the financial scandals that is going on, that in private -- in most private industries and in the teaching profession, in the police, in other public jobs, people would be out of work.
REHMDouble the standard for Congress, Melanie?
SLOANI think that's right. I know, for example, in the military -- my husband's in the military and had said there is no way this would be -- not tolerated. You'd be out in a heartbeat. This would -- if you were at the CIA or in the intelligence community, you'd be out for this. So there's an awful lot of places where you would be out. My only point is that we need to have a consistent standard in Congress.
SLOANSome people are in. Some people are out. John Ensign got to stay two years despite his peccadilloes that, I think, were pretty serious and ultimately suggested that he might have been engaged in crimes. David Vitter engaged in crimes. He's still there. And we're just not holding people to the same standard across the board, which is what we should do.
REHMTo Baltimore, Md.. Good morning, Josh.
JOSHGood morning. I just want to sort of state a comment about the congressman bringing the House in disrepute. I'm just wondering how it compares to the senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, who, in his past, actually did a nude picture in a magazine.
JOSHI'll take my answer off the air.
SLOANThat's just apples and oranges. He posed for a -- I think it was Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold in the buff. And I think he was very buff.
COOKAnd how many years ago?
SLOANIn many, many years ago when he was a young man before he was in public office. And, come on, that was out in the open as it were...
REHMBefore he was elected.
SLOANAnd before he was elected. Voters could go check it out if they wanted, and some of them might have voted for him for that reason. Not misconduct, not lying, not comparable.
REHMTo Long Island, N.Y., good morning, Jeri.
REHMYes, go right ahead.
JERIHi. My question is this, or my comment, what would happen if a woman did this? The men in the Congress would be all over her and want her out and calling her all kinds of names. But yet we pussyfoot around a man doing it with the attitude, well, you know, boys will be boys. And that's what I have to say. Thanks.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Melanie.
SLOANWell, there's no question that we would have a different reaction if it were a woman. I think she'd have resigned immediately. But, you know, going back to something else Ruth said. There is this fraternity atmosphere, I think, in the House, and I think it's been increased recently by the number of members who are now sleeping in their offices. This is a new problem.
SLOANWe're having about 40 to 50 members are treating the office like a fraternity and the fact that they are living there. And I think that, too, encourages less positive behavior. And a lot of women have said, no, I would never do that. I wouldn't sleep in my office because of all the risks attended to that.
COOKBut, you know, I mean, before we play the sexist card too hard, there's a woman that's -- I mean, there's a woman that is calling for, I mean, an investigation at this point. There's no investigation needed. That's just a stalling tactic that Pelosi is using to sort of hold off and see what, you know, what should I do on this, and do I need to put -- I mean, it's a woman that's not making a decision that's allowing this guy to -- I mean, she should've said the same way Boehner did, buddy, you're gone.
COOKAnd if you don't, we're going to throw you out, and given three hours to resign. And so, yes, there's a sexist atmosphere, I mean, but a woman needs to take the leadership on this. And so I wouldn't play the sexist card too hard on this.
MARCUSWell, I -- there's only been, in my experience, one -- there was one, actually, quite magnificent episode in Ireland with a politician who's last name, amazingly enough, was Robinson, and she was an elected official and...
COOKAs in Mrs. Robinson.
MARCUSMrs. Robinson, coo coo ka-choo.
MARCUSAnd she actually had an affair with a young teenager and was actually -- she -- his father who had died had asked her to take care of him. But it's really remarkable that in all the years we've had, really, a growing number of women in politics, we have not seen anything other than one episode like the scale of misconduct. And I have to say we're going to get it someday.
REHMWe're going to get it.
MARCUSAnd I'm sort of looking forward to seeing how it's treated.
REHMAll right. To Providence, RI., good morning, Raymond.
RAYMONDGood morning, and thank you for having me on.
RAYMONDTwo points. When Charlie said that because of our problems with the budget and everything else that now this has somehow exacerbated the Weiner scandal when it may otherwise not have been, I think the converse is true. I think because we have these problems, because we have, you know, we're having these conversations about our fiscal crisis, I think that that actually places the scandal in context a much -- in -- is much smaller by comparison.
RAYMONDAnd, most importantly, I think we have to be very careful about this type of puritanical appetite that we have in this country, especially when it's driven by the media when we, you know, try to regulate people's personal lives and hold them to a standard that has nothing to do with how they perform in their job. And I really appreciate Melanie for driving that point home. Thank you very much.
COOKI think there's a long way between, you know, what my limited understanding of American history between puritanical and where we are now. I mean, you know, if the scale is puritanical to libertine, you know, I mean, I don't know. We're somewhere in the middle. But I don't think this is puritanical. And I think that Congress has looked beyond a lot of behavior in the past. But I agree with Melanie. There needs to be consistent and, I think, a higher standard.
REHMCharlie Cook, he is editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report and a columnist for National Journal. And to Tampa, Fla., you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Hi Janet, you're on the air.
JANETHi, Diane. I adore your show.
JANETMy comment is that the sad situation that we have now with politicians or people in power of any kind in this country is due to the lack or the low sense of morality and ethical behavior that we have now in this country, where nothing seems to us immoral or incorrect. And, therefore, these people do what they do because our sense of morality and ethical behavior is so low in the country.
JANETAnd they do that, they do whatever they want to do, knowing that in the end they can even publish a book and be important, be a success, and their stories are going to be more interesting than other things in this world. And that is very sad. And that is why I think this country is going to go down the drain because morality and ethical behavior is what guides a country.
MARCUSWell, we can have a long conversation about the coarsening of American culture and the increasing sexualization of American culture, but the reality is that I don't think America is morally going down the drain. I think if you look at the reaction, which has been, across the board, pretty horrified to Rep. Weiner's conduct, it hasn't been, oh, what's the big deal? It's been mostly, this is horrifying, and he should behave better. So I don't think we're tolerating it.
SLOANWe've had sex scandals since the start of the country with Alexander Hamilton, the first treasury secretary, enmeshed in a big scandal, also, Thomas Jefferson. It's not new to have these kinds of scandals. What's new is how quickly they're reported on. With the 24-hour news cycle, we can endlessly discuss them. And people learn a lot more about them.
SLOANIn fact, I think our ethics standards have tightened quite a bit in -- when Lyndon Johnson was the Senate majority leader, people were often walking around with bags of cash in the halls of the Senate. And you're not seeing that nowadays. So I actually think that there's been some improvement. It's just that we all see every little thing so much that it's magnified and looks so much worse to us.
COOKOh, I don't disagree. I mean, I think we know more, we hear more, we're more aware of things. And I don't think -- I mean, I came to Washington in 1972, and, you know, it's not nearly as bad in that sense as it was. But the environment is more acrimonious, and I would argue the problems are greater than it was then. And so, I think, there's -- I think this is a distraction we don't need right now. And we ought to make it go away.
REHMHere's an email -- let's see -- says, "I have to say, if we're going to start asking members of Congress to resign if they lie, regardless of what the lie is about, we're soon going to find Washington, D.C. to be a ghost town."
MARCUSOr fewer people will lie if they know that there are serious consequences to it if they tell lies as brazen and as apt to get caught as his lies were. People will think twice about whether they're going to continue on that course. I do want to say one thing about Charlie's point that he's made a number of times, that we -- that this -- we can't tolerate this behavior because of the other serious problems that we have.
MARCUSI do not disagree at all that we have serious problems. I think the behavior is intolerable, whether or not we have these serious problems.
REHMDo you think, ultimately, he will step down?
MARCUSI think, probably, but I think he could tough it out -- for what, I don't know. I agree with Charlie. His career is done politically.
REHMRuth Marcus, she is columnist, editorial writer for The Washington Post. Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report and a columnist for National Journal. Melanie Sloan is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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