Eric Massa Leaves Office; Creates National Health Care Debate

11:47 PM, Mar 10, 2010   |    comments
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Video: Massa On Fox & CNN Talk Shows

Video: Pelosi Calls Massa "Sick Person"

  • Former U.S. Rep. Eric Massa (D-29th District)
  • Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Photo Courtesy: Gannett News Service
    

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As Republicans consider making the resignation of Former congressman Eric Massa into a political issue, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives reportedly referred to Massa as "a very sick person."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, during an interview with Charlie Rose that will air Wednesday night, said of Massa: "This is a very sick person. He has been diagnosed with cancer. Perhaps his judgment is impaired because of the ethical issues that have arisen, and he is no longer in the Congress."

A spokesperson for Pelosi said the speaker was referring to Massa's recent cancer scare, not his state of mind, when she described him as "sick."

As for Massa's claims that the Democratic Leadership was trying to force him out of Congress because of his opposition to the health care bill, Pelosi said to Rose: "Poor baby. Poor baby. Sometimes we really exaggerate our own importance in one of these things, you know."

Pelosi's comments come as Republicans meet Wednesday to consider whether to continue to attack Pelosi and the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives over their handling of the allegations against Massa, according to Politico.

Republicans may claim that Pelosi, who initially called the allegations of Massa's sexual harassment "a rumor," did not properly deal with Massa's troubles.

Massa denied Tuesday that he groped three male staffers.

"It is not true, period," Massa told Larry King on CNN's Larry King Live. "I don't know how else to answer your question."

Massa resigned his seat representing the 29th Congressional District on Monday. Before appearing on Larry King Live, he made an appearance earlier Tuesday on The Glenn Beck Program on Fox News.

Massa said the groping allegation, reported by The Washington Post in a story citing anonymous sources, came at "an odd time" shortly before his TV appearances. The Post reported that the allegation dates back to last year.

Massa told Beck of a "tickle fight" he had on his 50th birthday, when four members of his staff jumped on him.

"I did nothing sexual," he said.

Later in the evening, King asked Massa about the various reasons he's given for leaving -- a recurrence of cancer, a House ethics committee investigation of his conduct toward aides, problems with Democratic leaders.

Massa answered, "All the above, Larry."

That confused a caller to the King show, who wondered if Massa was changing his story from one cable show to the next.

"You can't tell the whole story about why I am leaving in soundbites," Massa said.

King pointedly asked Massa if he's gay.

"Why would you even ask that question in this day and age?" Massa responded, suggesting King ask his wife.

During the television interviews, Massa complained about what he said is a broken political system and to leaks about what was supposed to be a secret investigation of his conduct by the House ethics committee.

But he admitted being too familiar with his staff and took the blame for how his actions were perceived.

Massa initially announced a week ago he was not seeking re-election because of cancer. On Friday, he announced his resignation because of the ethics investigation. On Sunday, he theorized the inquiry centered around a comment he made to a staffer at a wedding, and he has admitted to using salty language with aides.

"I never translated my days from being in the Navy," Massa also said during his hour-long discussion with Beck.

The conservative talk show host had invited Massa on his show to tell viewers about corruption in Washington. He expressed disappointment after Massa said his best advice to fix Washington is for Congress to enact campaign finance reform.

"America, I have to shoot straight with you," Beck said at the conclusion of the interview. "I think we wasted your time."
Massa's resignation has created a political maelstrom in the nation's capital, drawing derisive comments from the White House and denials by House Democratic leaders that he was pushed out.

Massa has accused those leaders of wanting him out so he wouldn't be the deciding vote against health care reform legislation. And he's criticized White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for bullying Democrats to line up behind the administration's agenda.

On a Sunday radio show, Massa recalled an incident a year ago when he said Emanuel confronted him over his vote on Obama's budget when they were both naked in a congressional shower room.

Without specifically denying the incident occurred, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs described the story as "ridiculous."

Massa said early in Beck's show he wanted to make his case to "the toughest most unforgiving interviewer possible."
"That would be Bill O'Reilly," Beck quipped.

Massa noted that O'Reilly had not invited him to appear on his show.

Instead, Massa accepted Beck's invitation and another from CNN's Larry King later Tuesday evening.

Massa pledged he would "go away" after the two TV appearances.

 - Brian Tumulty, Gannett Washington Bureau

The following is an edited transcript of Beck's interview of Massa, provided by USA TODAY.

at 5:04 p.m. ET. "He could be an angel," Beck says. "He could be a complete dirt bag."

at 5:07 p.m. ET. "I'm not a congressman anymore," Massa said. "I failed...I own this."

Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET. Questioned about recent allegations that Massa had groped male staffers, Massa said those allegations have been taken out of context. "Not only did I grope him. I tickled him until he didn't breathe. It was kill the old guy," he said, suggesting he was rough-housing with his staff. He said all the bachelors in his office had lived in a town home until his chief of staff said that was not "congressional." Massa says he later moved into his office. "I should never have allowed myself to be as familiar with my staff."

Updated at 5:14 p.m. ET. Massa denies ever touching any of his staffers sexually. "I did nothing sexual," he said.

Updated at 5:16 p.m. ET. Why is Massa appearing on Beck's show? "I want the toughest, most unforgiving interviewer," he said. "That would be Bill O'Reilly," Beck said. "He didn't call," Massa responded.

Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET. Massa, holding up an x-ray of his liver, says doctors don't know whether his cancer is back or whether it is scar tissue.

Updated at 5:27 p.m. ET. "It's not tickle fights," that got him into trouble, Massa said. "It's inappropriate language" Massa said he will do "this interview, one more and then go away."

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET. Regarding White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Massa repeats his claim that Emanuel threatened him while the two were in a communal House shower. "Rahm Emanuel hates me," Massa said.

Updated at 5:37 p.m. ET. Back from break. Beck wants Massa to tell America what it needs to know. .

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET. "The most important thing that people can do is get involved," Massa said. "Please don't be a commercial," Beck said. Massa responds that the most important thing people can do is demand Congress reform campaign finance laws. "Until we do that, nothing will change," he said. "That to me is the No. 1 issue facing America today."

Updated at 5:42 p.m. ET. Massa said his frustration is based on special-interest influence on legislation in Congress. Who's to blame? "I think it's the leadership of both parties," Massa said. Beck is pressing Massa for specifics, but, alas, it's time for another break.

Updated at 5:52 p.m. ET. Massa isn't citing any specific instances of corruption, despite Beck's repeated attempts. He complains about vote whipping -- which is standard practice in Congress -- and encourages voters to call their representatives about the health care bill. There's only eight minutes left and, so far, there isn't much new here that Massa didn't cover over the weekend.

Updated at 5:54 p.m. ET. "Is there another shoe that's going to drop?" Beck said. "People at this point will say anything about me and that's fine," Massa responds. "I don't have an ax to grind."

Updated at 5:55 p.m. ET. Beck asked if there are text messages or phone calls that might come out. Massa said, "I'm sure there's text messages," because he "bantered back and forth" with staff.

Many of the same topics were addressed on CNN's Larry King Live, with Massa once again explaining the horseplay at his 50th party which he believes may have lead to the latest allegations against him for sexual touching, referring to his earlier comment on the Glenn beck show where he said he not only "groped" a staff member, but "tickled him until he couldn't breathe" (which Massa also said was "wrong")

Larry King: "Is it true that you groped male staffers?
Eric Massa: "No, it is not true, period. I don't know how else to answer your question .... when you grab someone when you are wrestling I don't know how to describe that word. So if that's the word (groping) that you want you have an entire debate about then I can't stop you.
Larry King: I'm just asking - you said you groped. A lot of people associate groping with sexual.
Massa: it wasn't sexual. Period."
Larry King: "Have you ever had an inappropriate sexual contact with anybody on your staff male or female?
Eric Massa: No."

Massa also re-asserted his claim that he was being targeted by Senior Democratic Leaders, including the White House Chief of Staff, for staunchly opposing President Obama's plan for health care reform.

Larry King: "Did any Democrat say to you, you will get out (and support this health care bill) or else?"
Eric Massa: "Oh I've had that said to me a bunch of times. That has been said to me in many, many ways by rank and file Democrats....Eric you are stirring the pot, we're unhappy with you, leadership doesn't like you."

Massa also says the real focus should not be on him and that he went on national television to warn other Democrats they could also become what he describes himself as-- the target of a smear campaign.

"I'm collateral damage, I'm road kill and in 72 hours nobody is going to remember who I am nor are they going to care, and if I can do anything as I leave, it's to raise a signal to my fellow democrats all over this country that we are about to make a huge irrevocable mistake (about healthcare)."
"I am in trouble because I'm a Democrat standing up to a horrific mistake we are about to make, period and you can see over and over again exactly how once you get on the wrong side of leadership, and this is something that every single American who watches this understands, you end up bucking your party, you're out. And it's happened over and over and over again and I'm just the most recent example."


At one point, Larry King also asked Massa if he was gay, to which Massa responded:

"Here's that answer. I'm not going to answer that. In the year 2010, let's ask my wife, ask my friends, ask the 10,000 sailors I served with in the Navy. I'm not going to answer that... Larry, it is insulting.
Larry King: I didn't mean it to insult you.
Eric Massa: No, no. Not me. It insults every gay American because it somehow classifies people. Why would anybody even ask that question in this day and age?

The House's No. 2 Democrat is dismissing as "absurd" Massa's claims that he was forced out by party leaders because of his opposition to health care.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD., told reporters Tuesday that Massa's conspiracy argument was "absolutely untrue."

The former New York lawmaker, who is facing a harassment complaint from a male staffer, said Sunday that Democratic leaders will "stop at nothing" to advance the health care bill. Massa voted against the legislation last year.

Monday night, The White House responded. A source inside the Obama administration tells our Scott Brown Massa's claims are "ridiculous."

With Massa's resignation, the Ethics Committee investigation comes to an end.

Massa has given three explanations for leaving office. Last week, he said he would not seek re-election because of health problems.

Governor Paterson has not yet announced whether he will call a special election to fill the remainder of Massa's term, which comes at the end of the year.

Read Dave McKinley's Blog : Eric Massa, ..A Heartbreak Or A Waste?

WGRZ/AP/USA Today

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