WASHINGTON — Publicly silent, fellow Democrats privately seethed Thursday over the distraction and furor surrounding the lewd photo sent from Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account, even as he declared he was finished talking about it and wanted to move on.
Weiner’s one-day, pun-laden media blitz a day earlier had only raised more questions about the embarrassing flap when he conceded he wasn’t sure whether the waist-down photo of a man’s bulging underpants was of him or not. His refusal to involve law enforcement because he said as a member of Congress he shouldn’t get special treatment — instead turning the issue over to a private security company he hired — raised rather than answered questions.
The uproar began over the weekend when conservative activist Andrew Breitbart reported on his website that Weiner had sent the photo to a 21-year-old female college student in Seattle who was one of the New York congressman’s Twitter followers. Weiner has insisted he did not send the photo. He says he saw it online before deleting it.
Though generally mum in public, Democrats privately fumed at the forced detour in their arguments about Medicare and spending, leaving the generally well-liked seven-term congressman from Brooklyn and Queens largely to fend for himself for a third day in a row. Most Republicans seemed content to let the controversy simmer.
A scene on the House floor Wednesday afternoon seemed to highlight the situation. As newly elected New York Rep. Kathy Hochul was sworn in — after an upset, special-election victory Democrats considered a sign of their ability to communicate their differences with Republicans on the future of Medicare — Weiner and the No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer were locked in a nearly 10 minute, animated conversation.
On Thursday, Weiner joined Democratic lawmakers at the White House where the caucus met with President Barack Obama. As they walked from buses on Pennsylvania Ave. Weiner’s colleagues stonewalled when they were asked about their colleague.
“I will have nothing to say about that,” said fellow New Yorker, Rep. Louise Slaughter. “I’m here to put people to work.”
“We’re not distracted by that,” said Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J.
The House’s top Democrat, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, earlier told ABC News that she was “a late-comer to the issue” — one that cable TV and the Capitol press corps have been fixated on for most of the week.
Still, Pelosi added, “I have confidence in Anthony Weiner that if an investigation is in order that will take place.”
Other top Democrats expressed a desire for the issue to disappear. Longtime Rep. John Conyers of Michigan said Weiner was a valuable member of the Democratic caucus, and he called the issue a distraction.
“The public mostly likes entertainment and excitement and that’s what the Weiner issue provides,” he said. “That’s human nature.”
Noting that the House was heading into a week-long break, Conyers said he hoped the issue soon “will not have the entertainment value that it currently enjoys.”
It seemed to be a bad week for politicians and their social media elsewhere, too. The Twitter account of the speaker of the Ohio House, William Batchelder, was hacked and phony comments were posted making it appear the Republican leader was championing liberal causes.
In New York, Weiner’s constituents said they were disappointed.
Ian Fredericks in Queens’ Kew Gardens said Weiner could end the controversy by being forthright. “He seems really reluctant to answer whether or not it’s a picture of him,” Fredericks said.
Evelyn Carson said her children brought the news to her attention after being on Twitter.
“That’s an embarrassment for the children to see something like that, especially from a big-time figure,” she said. Carson said she’d voted for Weiner but now regrets it.
Weiner failed in a 2005 bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York City, but has been considered a likely front-runner in the race to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg when the mayor’s third and final term ends in 2013.
Republicans were content to highlight the incident’s many unanswered questions. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Fox News that Weiner needed to “come clean.”
“There’s a lot of explaining going on without a lot of clarity,” said Cantor, a Virginia Republican. “The American people are right in saying that they don’t have tolerance for this repeated kind of activity going on surrounding their elected leaders.”
House Speaker John Boehner, asked twice about the incident at his weekly news conference, said reporters needed to “talk to Rep. Weiner.”
But by then Weiner had declared he didn’t want to talk about it. Emerging from his office to a phalanx of reporters on Thursday morning, Weiner said he was going to get back to work, but if they needed anything to make their stay in the hallway more comfortable he was happy to help.
Weiner has hired an attorney and a private firm to investigate. But Twitter’s policy states it will not provide information about postings without a subpoena, court order or other legal documents, raising questions about why law enforcement wasn’t investigating a possible cybercrime against a member of Congress.
Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, said Thursday the department was not probing the incident, because “we have not been asked to investigate.”
By hiring a private firm, Weiner controls the release of information about the investigation.
There were also questions about why the congressman, married recently to an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was following the female college student on Twitter.
The woman has been identified by media outlets as Gennette Cordova. Despite multiple calls to phone numbers and an email address for Cordova, she could not be reached for comment by The Associated Press.
Weiner, 46, married Clinton aide Huma Abedin last July, with former President Bill Clinton officiating. Before that, Weiner had been known as one of New York’s most eligible bachelors.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Alan Fram in Washington and videojournalist Bonny Ghosh in New York contributed to this report.