WASHINGTON – Rep. David Wu, facing an accusation of an unwanted sexual encounter with an 18-year-old woman and a request for an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, will not seek re-election next year and was pondering whether he would complete his term, a spokesman for the Oregon Democrat said Monday.
In a letter sent Monday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi requested the Ethics Committee investigation. The Oregonian, Wu's hometown newspaper, had reported that a California woman left a voicemail at Wu's office accusing him on an unwanted sexual encounter. Wu, 56, has said the encounter was consensual.
A few hours after the investigation request, Wu spokesman Erik Dorey told The Associated Press: "He's still determining his political future, but he will not run for re-election. He's fully focused on fulfilling his elected duties and serving his constituents to the best of his duties here in the House."
Wu tried to keep a low profile Monday as lawmakers returned to work and focused their attention on the debate over raising the debt ceiling. Dorey, his communications director, noted that Wu took part in House votes.
Wu, in his seventh term, was guaranteed a stiff primary challenge after seven staffers resigned in January because of unusual behavior that included sending a photo of himself in a tiger costume to a staff member and an angry public speech. Wu attributed those actions to a period of mental health challenges that began in 2008 as marital issues led to separation from his wife.
Those problems paled compared to the potential fallout from the encounter with the young California woman. Citing anonymous sources, The Oregonian reported that Wu told senior aides that the sexual encounter was consensual. The Portland paper reported Facebook notes indicated she graduated from high school in 2010 and that she registered to vote in California last August.
The paper said the woman decided not to press charges against Wu because there were no witnesses and it would have been her word against Wu's.
The heart of the 1st Congressional District is Washington County, a center of high tech and suburban development and the home of David Robinson, a former Navy officer and municipal official who lost by a margin of 4-1 to Wu in the Democratic primary last year.
In 2004, Wu won re-election in spite of acknowledging a decades-old college incident in which he tried to force a former girlfriend to have sex. Voters said they disliked an opponent's attempt to use that against Wu.
The fierce debate over how to raise the debt ceiling overshadowed the potential Capitol Hill sex scandal. Lawmakers from both parties on Monday raced to come up with some way out of a political standstill that threatens the government's ability to pay its bills, leaving themselves little time or inclination to talk about Wu.
"I don't know the facts. Certainly, I agree with Leader Pelosi that the Ethics Committee must look at this and must look at it at an accelerated fashion," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. "There has been an allegation made and we need to know the merits of that allegation."
It took several days before the scandal the enveloped former Rep. Anthony Weiner turned into a media frenzy. Wu could still face such a development if more information surfaced. But he was largely absent from lawmakers' public comments on Monday.
Democratic leaders held a news conference to discuss the debt ceiling and the economy, and Wu's name did not come up once. Republicans also focused their attention on the debt ceiling, with no GOP leaders calling publicly for him to resign.
Nearly all the public pressure on Wu to step down was coming from his home state. Potential rivals in the Democratic primary have called on him to step down.
Mary Botkin, a former Democratic National Committee committeewoman from Portland, added her name Monday to those calling for his resignation. She said she has known Wu since the 1980s but his credibility was "so severely damaged" that he should step down.
Botkin said Wu's constituents need a "member of Congress who is fully engaged in the issues. I think my friend is not fully engaged."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Wu should come forward and publicly disclose what happened. He also said the Ethics Committee was the appropriate place for a full investigation.
Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., said he spoke with Wu over the weekend. He said he didn't seek an explanation in that particular exchange.
"I asked him how he was doing, and I told him he should be concerned first and foremost about his children and his family. He acknowledged that and he acknowledged he has a very difficult decision coming up," Larson said.
Associated Press writers Tim Fought and Terrence Petty in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.