Republican Rep. Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania informed his colleagues Thursday that he will not seek re-election after news reports revealed he settled a sexual harassment claim with a former aide using tax payer dollars.
Meehan, 62, helped lead the fight against sexual harassment in his role on the House Ethics Committee until a Jan. 20 New York Times report revealed he settled a sexual harassment claim with an aide more than three decades his junior. The report, which cites unnamed sources, alleges Meehan romantically pursued the younger staffer and became angry with her when she entered a romantic relationship with another man.
Meehan, a four-term lawmaker, drew backlash Wednesday from comedian Stephen Colbert, among others, after he referred to his alleged victim as his “soulmate” in attempting to defend his actions.
Meehan explained that his use of the word soulmate was “in no way” intended to “suggest a romantic partnership,” in a letter sent to his campaign chairman Thursday and first obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Unfortunately, recent events concerning my office and the settlement of certain harassment allegations have become a major distraction,” Meehan wrote. “I need to own it because it is my own conduct that fueled the matter.”
“No characterization of the work relationship I shared with a uniquely close colleague could have been more personally harmful than when I described that co-worker as a ‘soul-mate,'” Meehan wrote. “I truly didn’t even consider or understand the full implications of the use of that term. Quite simply to me a soul-mate means a uniquely close person who is joined with you on a daily basis, in which you both share the routine successes and strains of a work day.”
Party officials were reportedly considering Meehan’s replacement after determining the sexual harassment claim represented a significant obstacle to reelection in a competitive suburban district narrowly captured by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Meehan’s former aide came forward over the summer, telling the congressional Office of Compliance that veteran lawmaker became hostile when she did not return his advances. She left her job shortly thereafter and Meehan has refused to disclose the size of the tax payer funded settlement.
Meehan’s announcement marks the fifth member of congress to resign or forego reelection as sexual harassment on Capitol Hill has captured the national attention.
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