Kicking Weiner out is possible, but not easy

Weiner's leave of absence approved by House
The House of Representatives granted a request by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) for a leave of absence.

On Tuesday, the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said disgraced New York Congressman Anthony Weiner should resign.

So far, he's refusing to do that. CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reports that forcing him out would not be easy or quick - it would take an investigation, and a two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives to do so.

Sadly, Congress has a lot of experience dealing with members who have broken either the law or common standards of decency. House Democrats met behind closed doors on Tuesday and discussed Anthony Weiner's refusal to step down.

"Our caucus understands our concern for the rights of the individual member, but (also) our higher responsibility to our country to uphold a high ethical standard," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Ca.

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It's a rare dilemma for congressional leaders who have forced legions of disgraced colleagues out with the strength of their disapproval alone. Florida's former Congressman Mark Foley lasted less than a day after suggestive messages he sent to teenage pages surfaced in 2006.

"I didn't sit there and try to run the clock out. I said, this was wrong and I resigned," Foley said afterwards.

In fact, Congress has only had to formally vote to expel a member twice since 1900: In 1980, after Congressman Michael Myers of Pennsylvania accepted a bribe in the Abscam scandal; And in 2002, when Ohio's Jim Traficant was convicted of bribery and racketeering.

Members accused of lesser transgressions, like New York's Charles Rangel, often find refuge in ethics investigations.

"The committee found no evidence at all of corruption," said Rangel amid calls for him to step down. He is still a sitting congressman.

The ethics investigation process lasts so long, the shock of the original mistake usually wears off by the time their colleagues finally pass judgment.

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank asked for an investigation after his partner's gay escort service run out of their town home came to light in 1989.

"I did think that I had been accused of some things I did that I shouldn't have done," Frank said.

Still, Rangel and Frank had more allies than Weiner, whose combative style has often alienated fellow democrats.

"Hopefully, he's getting the help he needs and he'll make the right decision," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-NY .

If Weiner doesn't step down, House Democrats may be forced to make his decision for him, in a long drawn-out fight that won't make anyone look good.

  • Nancy Cordes
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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.