He’s spent only 431 days in Congress, has never seen any of his bills pass out of subcommittee and was best known for voting against major pieces of legislation because they weren’t liberal enough for him — at least until he was accused of sexually harassing a male staffer.
Meet Eric Massa, conservative media hero.
The New York Democrat’s weekend radio rant against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has his star rising on the right even as he resigns from Congress under an ethical cloud.
Rush Limbaugh vowed to make a “national story” out of Massa’s claims that Democrats orchestrated his downfall because he voted no on health care reform — adding that Massa is “going to have so much support from people.”
Matt Drudge led his site for much of the day Monday with all-caps links to POLITICO’s coverage of Massa’s statements: “RAHM ‘WOULD SELL HIS OWN MOTHER,’ ‘SON OF THE DEVIL’S SPAWN.’”
And Glenn Beck took to Twitter to announce that he’d have Massa on his show for “the full hour” Tuesday because “all Americans need to hear him.”
Democrats warned that the GOP should be careful about embracing Massa.
“If the stories that are circulating are true about what really happened, the Republicans are going to hold up someone as the cause célèbre who harassed male members of his staff,” said a senior Democratic strategist. “Is that really where they want to be?”
And at least some voices on the right were urging caution, too.
Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin warned her readers not to be fooled by a “weapon of Massa distraction.”
“He’s been a progressive zealot and political opportunist his entire career,” Malkin wrote Monday afternoon. “He’s claimed conspiracy before, is intimately bonded with the nutroots and climbed the political ladder with backing from the odious, anti-war-hoaxer-embracing Gen. Wesley Clark. What Massa dismissively calls his ‘salty old sailor’ talk should raise bright-red flags about possible long-standing predatory behavior.”
Massa downplayed his ethical troubles in a 90-minute interview with radio station WKPQ on Sunday, saying Democratic leaders were using a single comment he made at a wedding reception on New Year’s Eve as a pretext to get him out of the House.
“I danced with the bride, and I danced with the bridesmaid. Absolutely nothing occurred,” Massa recounted. “I said goodnight to the bridesmaid. I sat down at the table where my whole staff was — all of them, by the way, bachelors. One of them looked at me and — as they would do after, I don’t know, 15 gin and tonics and goodness only knows how many bottles of champagne — a staff member made an intonation to me that maybe I should be chasing after the bridesmaid. His points were clear, and his words were far more colorful than that.
“And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me, and I said, ‘What I really ought to be doing is fracking you,’ and then tousled the guy’s hair and left, went to my room, because I knew the party was getting to a point where I shouldn’t be there.”
Massa said the comment was inappropriate but claimed to be the victim of “political correctness” run amok — all because Democratic leaders want him out of the way.
Massa said the death of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and the departure of Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) have made him “the deciding vote on the health care bill, and this administration and this House leadership have said, quote-unquote, they will stop at nothing to pass this health care bill, and now they’ve gotten rid of me and it will pass. You connect the dots.”
Hoyer’s office dismissed the charge out of hand.
“That’s completely false,” said Katie Grant, a Hoyer spokeswoman. “There is zero merit to that accusation.”
A senior Democratic aide also rejected Massa’s claim that Hoyer acted inappropriately in confirming that he had been told of allegations against the congressman and insisted that they be taken to the House ethics committee.
“Massa’s charges against Hoyer are outrageous and totally false,” said the aide. “Hoyer acted quickly and discreetly because he didn’t know if the allegations were true, but it wasn’t up to him to decide; that’s up to the bipartisan ethics committee. Weeks later, once the allegations were made public and Hoyer was asked directly by the media the extent of his knowledge, he had no choice but to state the limit of his involvement.”
In Massa’s telling, Hoyer’s statement was consistent with a larger Democratic plot to pass health care reform at all costs.
Massa said that Emanuel, who recruited him to run for Congress in 2006 when Emanuel was serving as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, once accosted him at the House gym for not getting in line behind President Barack Obama’s plans.
“I am showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me because I wasn’t going to vote for the president’s budget,” Massa said. “Do you know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?”
The White House declined to comment on Massa’s allegations, as did Pelosi’s office.
Massa announced Wednesday that he would retire at the end of his term, citing a cancer scare in December. Massa, a 24-year Navy veteran, survived two previous bouts with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
But POLITICO reported that Massa was the target of a House ethics committee investigation, which began in early February when a former top aide to the New York congressman went to Hoyer’s office, seeking guidance from Democratic leaders on what to do about allegations that Massa had sexually harassed a more junior male aide.
Hoyer told the Massa staffer, Ronald Hikel, that he should report the incident to the ethics committee or Hoyer would himself. Hikel, Massa’s former deputy chief and legislative director, then went to the ethics panel and was twice interviewed by investigators. Joe Racalto and other top Massa aides were also questioned by ethics panel staff several weeks before the POLITICO story broke.
“They brought lawyers in. They took my staff members into a room, and they grilled them for 3½ to four hours,” Massa said during his radio appearance. “And the first question that they asked them was, ‘Do you think Congressman Massa is gay?’ Let me ask you something: So what if I was? ... That’s an issue between me and my wife, and trust me, she knows the answer.”
The ethics committee announced Thursday that it was reviewing the case. And Friday, Massa announced that he would resign his seat effective Monday. The House was out Monday, so it would not have been possible for Massa to formally step aside then.