Rep. Pat Meehan will have to step aside, Republican insiders say
"There's not a lot of options," said one party insider, as Meehan tries to withstand a report that he secretly paid an aide thousands of dollars to settle a sex harassment claim.
Pennsylvania Republicans increasingly believe that Rep. Pat Meehan, the latest elected official to be tarnished by a sexual harassment claim, will not be able to run for reelection this fall — and that it's now a question of whether he resigns or declares this to be his last term, according to interviews with a half-dozen party officials and insiders.
One, who has been in touch with Meehan's congressional aides said that the Delaware County Republican is being walked through his dim political prospects and weighing his next step, but that a departure is all but certain.
"There's not a lot of options," said the source, who like others interviewed for this story did not want to be named discussing the congressman's private deliberations.
Though Meehan had not made a decision as of Thursday morning, another GOP official said he is politically adept enough to understand the reality he faces. While some people are urging him to dig in, a third veteran insider said, no one interviewed for this story believed the four-term incumbent had a realistic chance of keeping his seat.
Meehan's downfall would come after what was widely seen as his damaging attempt to explain the disclosure Saturday that he had used thousands of taxpayer dollars last year to quietly settle a sexual harassment claim by a former aide.
His subsequent interview Tuesday with the Inquirer and Daily News — in which the 62-year-old married father told of his deep "affection" for the younger aide, described her as his "soul mate," and said their relationship was innocent — brought on an avalanche of national opprobrium, including a skewering Wednesday night on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. A Meehan spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Meehan had been scheduled to travel to Montreal with a congressional delegation, but it was not clear if he did.
In the interview Tuesday, Meehan said he planned to continue his reelection campaign — "I'm going to keep fighting for people that I care about" — but that was before the backlash to his explanation went viral.
Republican political leaders in Washington and Pennsylvania had previously been reluctant to criticize Meehan, saying they wanted to hear more facts about the harassment claim, but have not commented on his future since his interviews Tuesday.
If he does step down, it would open a major opportunity for Democrats as they seek to recapture the House. Meehan represents a moderate suburban district that leans slightly right, but that went narrowly for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.
Several Republicans said Meehan is a good person whose true character didn't come across in his interviews this week with news outlets.
Until the New York Times reported the settlement on Saturday, Meehan had been seen as the strongest GOP incumbent in several swing districts around Philadelphia. The former county and federal prosecutor was bolstered by a large campaign fund, a straight-arrow reputation and a bizarrely shaped district drawn to favor Republicans.
But the sexual harassment revelation, combined with a state Supreme Court order to redraw the Pennsylvania congressional map more fairly, have put him — and the GOP — in danger of losing the seat in a year when Democrats are already favored to make significant gains.
His former aide accused Meehan last year of turning hostile toward her after she began a serious long-term relationship with another man, the Times reported Saturday. He denied that he harassed his aide or acted inappropriately, but he paid her thousands of dollars from his office fund in a confidential agreement to settle her complaint.
If he remains in the race his candidacy could weigh on fellow Republicans, who are facing questions about whether they will continue supporting their colleague. Even in Virginia, Democrats are using Meehan's interviews to urge a vulnerable Republican there, Rep. Barbara Comstock, to return campaign donations she received from him. One campaign operative in Washington said GOP donors are grumbling about being asked to support a damaged candidate.
Among Pennsylvania Republicans there is informal talk about "sacrificing" Meehan's Delaware County-based district in the new congressional maps to make the state more balanced, while firming up GOP support in neighboring districts.
If Meehan decides not to seek a fifth term, that move would allow GOP map-makers to try to satisfy the Supreme Court order without angering an incumbent on the ballot, though Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, has to sign off on any final alignment of the districts.
Democrats do not have a top-tier recruit in the race to replace Meehan. Their most well-known contender, State Sen. Daylin Leach, suspended his own bid after reports that he used sexually charged language and inappropriately placed his hands on women who worked for him or the party.
Republicans are weighing who might be able to run in Meehan's place, but recruiting may prove difficult given the uncertainty over the shape of the district and a national environment that appears to favor Democrats.