When it comes to controversies involving politicians accused of sexual harassment, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) appears to be in the middle of a rather unique scandal.
The story first came to light over the weekend in a stunning report from the New York Times. According to the allegations, the Pennsylvania Republican, a married father of three, took an interest in a young woman who worked in his office and considered him something of a father figure. Meehan reportedly professed his romantic interest in the aide and when she rebuffed his advances, the congressman "grew hostile."
She ultimately quit, initiated the complaint process with the congressional Office of Compliance, and quietly received a taxpayer-financed settlement. And because our politics can be ridiculous, Meehan then went on to take a leadership role in writing new sexual-harassment policies for Capitol Hill.
Addressing the controversy in detail for the first time, Meehan spoke yesterday with Philadelphia's two major dailies -- the Inquirer and Daily News -- and while he denied harassing his former aide, I'm not sure his on-the-record comments helped his case.
U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan acknowledged Tuesday that he had a deep "affection" for a younger aide and told her last year that he saw her as "a soul mate," but said he never pursued a romantic relationship with the woman and, despite paying her a secret settlement, denied her claims of sexual harassment.Meehan, a Delaware County Republican, also said that he initially reacted "poorly" when he found out that the longtime aide, decades younger, had begun a serious relationship with another man and might leave his office. He released a heartfelt letter he wrote to her in May in which he wished her well, thanked God "for putting you into my life," and signed it, "With all my heart, Patrick."
The article added that if he displayed any hostility toward the woman, it may have "stemmed from stress around high-pressure votes last year over the Affordable Care Act."
Yes, when in doubt, blame Obamacare.
Indeed, the written letter Meehan gave to the young woman, dated the evening of a vote on an ACA repeal bill, added, “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.”
Meehan reportedly added that as far as he's concerned, he felt "invited" to express his romantic feelings to the aide because they shared ice cream after work.
Remember, the congressman -- a former federal prosecutor -- volunteered this information in the hopes of mitigating the effects of the controversy.
As for the larger context, following up on our coverage from Monday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) responded to the report by removing Meehan from the 10-member Ethics Committee, which will now take the lead in examining the allegations.
Ryan also reportedly urged Meehan to repay taxpayers for the money used in the settlement. The Pennsylvania Republican said yesterday he's prepared to do so if the Ethics panel finds that he did, in fact, harass his former staffer.
In cases like these, what always matters most is the impact on the people involved, but what makes the Meehan story electorally relevant is the fact that his district, which includes Philadelphia suburbs, is one of the most competitive congressional districts in the country.
Meehan insisted yesterday that he'll seek re-election this year, despite the controversy.