Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania is the latest lawmaker hit with allegations of sexual misconduct, putting his suburban Philadelphia seat at even more risk of a Democratic takeover.
GOP leadership removed Meehan from the House Ethics Committee within hours of the initial New York Times report that he used funds from his personal office to settle a sexual harassment complaint with a former member of his staff. The congressman has denied any wrongdoing.
It’s unclear whether Meehan will resign, retire, or run for re-election, but initially, it looks like his party leadership is giving him some breathing room.
“Any further action or comment will come pending a full and prompt investigation by the Ethics Committee,” said AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
Without Meehan on the ballot, his suburban 7th District seat would likely be a nightmare for the GOP to hold in a special election or in November, based on the current enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans and circumstances surrounding this particular vacancy.
At a minimum, the seat is more vulnerable than it was a couple of days ago.
Innocent until proven guilty is no longer the default position in this environment and Meehan’s use of taxpayer dollars is tailor-made for Democratic attacks. But until more facts of the situation become known and Meehan makes a final decision, it’s hard to handicap the race.
It’s also unclear whether Meehan staying or going would help the GOP’s chances. He’s locked down the competitive seat for years, but his political stock will depend on how the complaint plays out in the public and if more accusers come forward.
Watch: How the Open Seats Are (or Aren’t) Creating Opportunities in the House
For now, here are nine things you should know …
Geography: The 7th District sits in the western Philadelphia suburbs and includes most of Delaware County and parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lancaster counties. It was drawn by Republicans to elect a Republican, under most circumstances.
Recent presidential results:Hillary Clinton carried it over Donald Trump, 49 percent to 47 percent in 2016; Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama 50 percent to 49 percent in 2012, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.
Other election results: Also in 2016, voters in the district went for GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey over Democrat Katie McGinty, 53 percent to 45 percent, as well as Republican candidates for attorney general (52 percent), auditor (52 percent), and treasurer (50 percent), according to J. Miles Coleman of Decision Desk HQ.
Demographics: 84 percent non-Hispanic white; 43 percent bachelor’s degree or higher; median age, 42.6.
Inside Elections rating: Change from Likely Republican to Leans Republican, until circumstances play out and Meehan’s fate is decided.
Filing deadline: March 6, with primary on May 15. If Meehan resigns, there could potentially be a different filing deadline, but local party leaders choose nominees instead of a special primary.
The incumbent: Meehan, 62, was first elected in 2010. He’s a former U.S. attorney and Delaware County district attorney who was also GOP Sen. Rick Santorum’s campaign manager in 1994 and a professional hockey referee.
Potential Republican field: Should Meehan retire or resign, state Sen. Tom McGarrigle is potential candidate.
Democratic field: As explained by Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman, sexual harassment allegations had already upended the race on the Democratic side. State Sen. Daylin Leach, a top challenger, faced his own allegations of inappropriate conduct, after which he said he would be taking a step back from the congressional campaign. Lawyer and 2016 2nd District candidate Dan Muroff, IT consultant Drew McGinty, medical research scientist Molly Sheehan and real estate broker Elizabeth Moro were already running. Former CIA officer Shelly Chauncey was planning to run before the Times story and officially announced Monday. It’s possible other potential challengers will reconsider their options, particularly if there is a special election. Watch: Former Congresswomen Reflect on Sexual Harassment Issues