National Democrats have been quick to distance themselves from disgraced Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-NY) in the wake of his Twitter sex scandal, with the party’s top leaders in both chambers publicly chastising him. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-NY) called for an ethics investigation, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine called on Weiner to resign, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) coldly said he would urge Weiner to “call somebody else” if the Congressman asked for advice. Other Democrats have returned campaign contributions from Weiner.
Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has vocally called for Weiner’s resignation. But this has led many to questions if Priebus is exploiting the scandal for political gain by holding Weiner to a standard the GOP didn’t apply to their own members embroiled in scandal, especially Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) who admitted in 2007 to patronizing a prostitution ring. Vitter remains in the Senate to this day and easily won reelection in 2010. Fox News host Greta Van Susteren asked Priebus about this double standard last night, but Priebus refused to address it and Van Susteren, not surprisingly, allowed him to evade the question:
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a difference with Senator David Vitter, I mean, with the whole — with his whole little prostitution — he’s on a prostitution client list. Is that different?
PRIEBUS: Well, I don’t know if it’s different.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, nobody called —
PRIEBUS: Frankly, I’m not relitigating the David Vitter situation.
But even Priebus’s predecessor, former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, sees some “inconsistency” in Priebus’ acrimony, as he told MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow last night:
STEELE: It doesn’t matter if your name is Vitter or Weiner…[t]he consequences of breaking that trust should be equally applied. I heard what the chairman said today and thought it was a little bit not right. You can’t look at one case and say that this behavior warrants dismissal or you should quit, or look at another one that may be a degree or two more egregious and not see that same that requirement of removing yourself from office.
Watch a compilation of Priebus and Steele:
Unlike Pelosi, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not call for a ethics investigation into Vitter, and remained largely silent on the scandal.
Vitter did, however, receive public support from fellow Louisiana Republicans. Realizing that the state’s Democratic governor would likely appoint a Democrat if Vitter resigned, the state GOP launched “a concerted push…to offer some support” for the embattled senator, the The New Oreleans Times Picyune reported at the time. Then-Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), who was in the midst of a successful bid for governor, issued a statement saying, “While we are disappointed by Senator Vitter’s actions…[t]his is a matter for the Senator to address, and it is our hope that this is not used by others for their own political gain.” Louisiana GOP Reps. Richard Baker and Charles Boustany issued their own “supportive statements,” with Baker saying Vitter’s illegal use of prostitution “does not define the whole of the man and it is not irredeemable.” He even urged to the news media to exercise “some restraint” when writing about the scandal.
Priebus is right to call for a high ethical standard for political leaders, but his indignation would ring less hollow if he applied the same standard to those in his own party as well.