- Rep. Patrick Meehan, a Republican from Pennsylvania, has taken America on a very public exploration of his emotions in recent days.
- Meehan used taxpayer funds to settle a complaint for a former staffer who said he professed romantic desires toward her and retaliated when she rejected them.
“How can you control feelings?” Rep. Patrick Meehan asked Lauren Mayk, a reporter for NBC 10 in Philadelphia, on Wednesday.
The congressman meant the question to be rhetorical, but he may actually need it answered.
The New York Times reported Saturday that Meehan, a Republican who represents a heavily gerrymandered swing district outside Philadelphia, used taxpayer funds to settle a complaint from a former staffer who said he professed romantic desires toward her and then retaliated against her when she rejected them.
Since the Times report came out, Meehan has been talking a lot about his feelings. To the press. Like a teenager who just got dumped for the first time. Because he somehow thinks his actions will look more appropriate if he pours his heart out.
“This was quite sudden, and it was also something that was going to separate the relationship that we had, and that was a big blow to me,” Meehan told The Philadelphia Inquirer of the time he learned his decades-younger staffer had a boyfriend and was going to leave his office.
Meehan denied to The Inquirer that he had harassed his staffer, insisting that if he was hostile toward her, it was because of a different emotional driver: stress he was feeling about high-stakes votes on healthcare policy.
There is a common thread between Meehan’s explanations for his scandal and his actions that led to the scandal in the first place: total emotional self-absorption.
At each step, Meehan has failed to consider the effect that his choice to follow and exclaim his own emotions might have on the emotions of others – for example, those of his staffer, or those of his wife.
Oh, right – I should mention that Meehan is married, with three children.
At the time in early 2017 when he learned about his staffer’s romantic relationship, he burdened her with the knowledge that her relationship was negatively affecting his feelings.
“I stated that I wished I could be better at accepting it right now but I probably needed a bit of time,” he said.
Then he wrote her a letter, in which he said he had made peace with her relationship.
“As you bask in this moment of extreme joy I want to share with you my sentiment of how richly it is deserved,” he wrote. “You are kind and sensitive and caring and infectious with your laugh. You are and have been a complete partner to me and you have brought me much happiness.”
Meehan has since told NBC 10 this letter has been misconstrued as a love letter.
“I was writing a letter to say I love the idea that you have found this new relationship, and even though it hurts me that we’re going to be separated, and even though I’m struggling with the idea, that – that – that having you with me is something I need to make sure I always keep professional,” he explained.
Meehan’s emotional incontinence – “my own struggle with emotions,” as he put it to NBC 10 in an on-camera interview – has not only interfered with his observance of boundaries related to marital fidelity, sexual-harassment law, and grown-up dignity. His accuser’s lawyer told NBC 10 that his recent statements “are a gross violation of the confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions that he signed” at the time she received her settlement.
Learn to control your feelings, congressman – whether those feelings are leading you to hit on your employee or whether they are leading you to tell the world you simply “demonstrated that there was a caring and an affection,” and that you had platonic intentions when you called her your “soul mate,” and that you are hurt that people think any of this was untoward.
Some things are best kept bottled up inside, even before considering the contractual obligations one might have to do so.