Philadelphia (CBS) — I want my congressman to leave office. Today. It’s not enough that he’s announced he’s not running for reelection. Just go away, Mr. Meehan. Now. If not out of respect for your constituents like me, do it for your family and those who still have a shred of respect left for you.
You might be thinking, “Wow, that seems harsh.” You might not know what the representative of Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District has done. I’ll fill you in if you missed the story.
First, let me start by prefacing, no, I’m not angry with him for having a relationship outside of his marriage. That’s not worth an eye-bat in today’s political culture. It’s a bigger betrayal than that.
Last weekend, The New York Times dropped a bomb on the Keystone State congressional district I call home. Already considered a soft-at-best, Republican swing district – Pat Meehan has managed to hold on and win three elections since 2010 here. His wins have largely been built on name ID and a pretty fiercely moderate stance on many key issues.
That all came to a screeching halt after it was revealed Congressman Meehan settled a sexual harassment claim with a former female congressional staffer.
According to the report, Meehan is accused of expressing romantic interest toward a younger female staff member and then becoming “hostile when she did not reciprocate.” Meehan, a married father of three, allegedly professed his feelings for her in person and then wrote her a letter. The woman eventually started working from home and then left the job, The New York Times reported.
Meehan’s office and the woman reached a confidential agreement. Meehan used thousands of taxpayer dollars to settle the claim, sources told The New York Times. After the release of the story, the congressman immediately denied its accuracy. Friends of the congressman visited my radio show all saying the same thing. “Pat’s a fine guy. Let’s give him a fair hearing before deciding his guilt or innocence.”
I completely agreed. Hell, I even gave failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore the benefit of the doubt when it was considered socially unacceptable to brand him anything short of a pedophile. Throughout all of these sexual harassment stories, I’ve consistently held if there’s evidence or admitted guilt, have at ‘em.
But if there’s denial of charges leveled and there’s no hard evidence to support an accuser – I believe the accused is due an assumption of innocence. No matter how vile the accusations, our legal system is built on “innocent until proven guilty.” Not mob rule.
Now, there are a couple of other issues to address before I get to what REALLY set me off. Meehan is said to have used taxpayer money to settle this dispute. I believe a robust conversation needs to happen surrounding any private use of the peoples’ money. If one gets into personal trouble while holding a congressional post, any penalties or settlement money should come out of the personal pockets of the official found guilty. Not their constituent’s pockets. Period.
Additionally, there’s the matter of the actual affair. Let’s just cut to the chase on this. Washington, D.C. is full of twenty-something, ambitious, and often very attractive people. Those people work for men and women often twice their age or more who are powerful, elected representatives. Those powerful people spend hours, days, and weeks away from their homes and families and surrounded by the twenty-something, ambitious, often very attractive people.
Do the math. Affairs happen. You may be someone who feels this is a character flaw too great to look past. I won’t debate it with you. I’ll just say as long as Bill Clinton is a celebrated former president, literally no politician can be held to a higher standard than the low bar set by Mr. Clinton’s supporters. It’s where we are culturally. So for the sake of this column, I’m looking past the morality discussion.
What Meehan did next, I can’t look past.
Inexplicably, he held a press conference to explain his side of this New York Times story to the media. I eagerly awaited it. He said it was a mutual thing. He said it was purely emotional, never physical. He referred to this young staffer as his “soul mate” and basically admitted he acted like a jealous teen when he found out she was committed to another. This, he said, was hardly harassment. It was merely mutual respect he wishes he’d handled better at times. He paid her the settlement to save her from any ugly legal hassles she didn’t deserve.
To drive home to everyone he was just a nice guy who merely admired a colleague, Mr. Meehan shared a handwritten letter he’d penned to his “soul mate.” Dated May 4th, 2017 – not quite six months after total Republican landslides – Meehan wrote in part:
“As I walked this evening and glanced over at the White House I smiled at the irony that on a day that I had to say ‘no’ to the President and to the Speaker of the House, I got to say ‘yes’ to you.”
That “no” was his vote on repealing Obamacare – one of the most destructive political train wrecks in our lifetimes. A policy so overreaching and crippling to Americans’ wallets and choices in medical care – Republicans won in a landslide with the promise of its repeal.
I voted for Pat Meehan because he and his party said they stood for the repeal of that disaster. At the time, I viewed his “no” vote as a betrayal by a typical moderate, but it was ultimately of little consequence to me as the House had enough Republicans to get it done without him. I cared more about getting repeal passed than who voted how, at the time.
This week I learned the truth as to why Congressman Meehan voted “no.” He wanted to impress his “soul mate.”
On behalf of the constituents of Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, Mr. Meehan, do the right thing and step down now. Allow for a special election.
Yes, that will undoubtedly mean a Democrat will become my new representative. And yes, I’m aware that means a Democrat will likely hold that seat many future terms from now, too. And yes, it’s also true I won’t agree with many – if any – votes that Democrat casts while representing me in Washington.
But at least I’ll know that Democrat is ignoring me because their vote is coming from their convictions.
Not their pants.