Live from New York, It’s Anthony Weiner

By | Nov 15, 2011
2011 May-June, World

If you go on YouTube and type in “Anthony Weiner,” a list of videos appears with words such as “rant,” “catfight” and “shouting match” in the title. In one of the more popular videos, named “NY Rep Weiner’s Anti-GOP Rant,” the congressman yells vociferously on the House floor, the veins in his neck protruding, as he chastises Republicans for voting against a bill to provide health care to New York City’s Ground Zero first responders from September 11. “You vote yes if you believe yes,” he shouts. “You vote in favor of something if you believe it’s the right thing.” His “performance” has received considerable attention—much of it positive—with YouTube views in the hundreds of thousands. “I was certainly angry and I think I spoke for a lot of Americans,” he tells me. Ultimately, the bill was passed in both the House and the Senate, but not without a little help from his friend Jon Stewart, who interviewed first responders who became ill as a result of their rescue efforts. Stewart played the Weiner diatribe on his show, joking, “That’s exactly what it looked like when you used his peanut butter.”

For the most part, Weiner is a poster boy for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. He’s been praised by groups that support women’s reproductive rights and has won accolades from environmental groups. Predictably, he received an “F” grade from the National Rifle Association, which called him the seventh-worst lawmaker because “he promotes New York City gun laws [among the most restrictive in the nation] as a model for the rest of the country.”

Weiner does not mince words when it comes to issues he considers of top national concern, especially in the health care arena. In the weeks and months leading up to the health care reform bill, he seemed to be everywhere—from criticizing President Obama’s tax bill to blasting Republicans with bombastic and somewhat outrageous claims. “You guys have chutzpah,” he said from the floor of the House, addressing GOP members in February of last year. “The Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.”

Weiner even manages to generate media attention for mundane legislative issues. Last year, he brought two goats to a bipartisan press conference on Capitol Hill to highlight the need to cut long-standing mohair wool subsidies. One of the goats attacked him, delighting the media, and all—except the goats—seemed pleased. “It was definitely more Anthony’s idea than it was mine,” laughs Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who participated in the stunt. “There are thousands of bills before Congress, and sometimes the ones that get passed are the ones that get attention.”

Chaffetz, who has worked with Weiner on other bipartisan issues, concedes that Weiner can be “over-the-top,” adding that “his style offends a lot of people and he sometimes makes issues a little too personal. He’s aggressive, which works for some people. When we’re on the same side, it can be helpful.”

Jousting with conservatives can sometimes come across as a sport for Weiner, although he insists otherwise. “It’s a necessary thing to do,” he says. “I have a choice: I can shout at my television or shout at the host directly. I’m not afraid of having a debate about these issues. And some of these programs are so deep in lies and demagoguery that someone needs to be there to correct the record.” Then, with a smile, he adds: “It allows me to burn off bile.”

One of his colleagues is Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, who serves with him on the Judiciary Committee and is a personal friend. “Anthony is one of the most quick-witted legislators there is, and once he gets hold of an issue, there’s no letting go,” she says. “He’s very well-spoken and knows how to get a point across succinctly and effectively. He’s an excellent debater, and when a back and forth is necessary, he’s someone you can call on to be the standard-bearer.”

Still, his tactics have ruffled more than a few feathers. Congressman Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, co-sponsored the 9/11 health care bill but then got into several high-profile shouting matches with Weiner on cable news shows. King accused Democrats of irresponsibly using procedure and requiring a two-thirds majority vote that didn’t permit Republican amendments—rather than the usual simple majority. New York magazine covered the brawl with the headline: “Anthony Weiner and Peter King Do Their Best Kindergartner Impressions.”

2 thoughts on “Live from New York, It’s Anthony Weiner

  1. Mark Blumenthal, MD, MPH says:

    In a word: ugh!

  2. I really love this guy Athoney Weiner

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