– By CHRIS CILLIZZA

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Democratic Party leaders called on Rep. Anthony Weiner to resign Saturday for his role in a sex texting scandal, even as the congressman announced he would seek a leave of absence from the House to seek treatment.

Weiner spokeswoman Risa Heller said Saturday afternoon that he “departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.”

She added that he’d request “a short leave of absence from the House” after which he would make a decision on his political future. Heller did not return an email regarding what sort of treatment the 46-year-old New York Democrat was seeking.

PARTY CALLS FOR HIS RESIGNATION

“This sordid affair has become an unacceptable distraction for Representative Weiner, his family, his constituents and the House,” Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the party chairwoman, said in a written statement calling for the married lawmaker to step down.

The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said Weiner “has the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents and the recognition that he needs help. I urge Congressman Weiner to seek that help without the pressures of being a member of Congress.”

Aides said later that Pelosi had been aware of Weiner’s plan to enter treatment when she issued her statement, and her call for a resignation had not changed because of it.

Weiner, who has acknowledged “inappropriate” online conduct with at least six women, has previously insisted he had no plans to resign.

The leave of absence is not an official designation and means that Weiner will not only remain a member of the House but also continue to receive his congressional salary. It seems designed to buy him some time as he ponders his political future.

It’s also not without precedent. In 2002, then-Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., took an unexplained two-week leave of absence; in 2009, Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., took a monthlong leave of absence to enter the Betty Ford clinic for treatment of alcoholism.

Weiner’s decision to stay in office despite the urgings of his party leadership was not greeted warmly. “That is unacceptable,” said one senior Democratic party official. “The die is cast. He needs to move on.”

DEMOCRATS EXPECT QUESTIONS TODAY

The calls for his resignation were the result of a several-day process aimed at ending the political problem Weiner had created.

Beginning Thursday, Democratic officials began talks about the possibility of calling for Weiner to step aside. A Saturday morning deadline was decided on; if Weiner had not resigned by then, the leadership of the party would call on him to do so in a coordinated fashion.

The deadline was a function of the inevitable questions about resignations that were sure to be posed to Democratic officials on today’s talk shows as well as the fact that the House was returning from a recess Monday.

Also, late Friday came a report that police were looking into Weiner’s online contact with a 17-year-old girl in Delaware. Weiner said that nothing improper had passed between them.

SCANDAL VIEWED AS A DISTRACTION

Party officials insist the decision to call on Weiner to resign had been made prior to the story breaking in Delaware.

A senior House Democratic aide said that the Weiner scandal had functioned as a huge distraction for the party.

“For two weeks we’ve only talked about Anthony Weiner,” the source said. “We haven’t talked about Medicare. We haven’t talked about creating jobs.”

The Weiner saga began two weeks ago Friday when he accidentally published a picture on his personal Twitter feed that he meant to be sent to a college student in Seattle.

After denying that he sent the picture — which depicted his underwear-clad groin — Weiner admitted in a New York City press conference that he had in fact done so and that the lewd image in question was of him.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.