WASHINGTON — The heightened scrutiny of sexual impropriety on Capitol Hill has swept up a senior House Republican who on Wednesday apologized for a sexually explicit photo that wound up on the internet.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who was once chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is now its vice chairman, told The Texas Tribune that he was reconsidering his political future after the photograph appeared on an anonymous Twitter account. Just weeks ago, Barton announced that he would seek an 18th term in Congress.
“You’re as aware of what was posted as I am,” he told The Tribune. “I am talking to a number of people, all of whom I have faith in and am deciding how to respond, quite frankly.”
In a statement, Barton, 68, said that while separated from his wife, he had “sexual relationships with other mature adult women.”
“Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended,” he said. “I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down.”
The photo of a naked Barton, with his private parts obscured before it was posted, set off waves of speculation in Texas and Washington, where sexual harassment charges are roiling Capitol Hill. The tweets, which appeared on Monday, included an image of a sexually explicit text message, ostensibly sent by Barton, along with a cryptic reference to harassment.
It was not clear why the photo was posted. Lawmakers called and texted one another Tuesday night and Wednesday morning trying to discern whether the photo was authentic, but received no guidance from the party’s leadership or Barton.
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, said Ryan had spoken to Barton on the matter but would “keep those conversations between the two of them.”
Barton is the longest-serving member of the Texas congressional delegation and was the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman when President George W. Bush was in the White House. He used that perch to promote the interests of his state’s oil and gas industry and even clashed with some fellow Republicans when his committee investigated scientists doing research on climate change.
He had lowered his sights more recently, telling associates that he hoped to claim the investigatory subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce panel. That subcommittee chairmanship is vacant because its most recent chairman, Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, resigned last month after it was revealed that he had encouraged his mistress to seek an abortion.
Unlike other veteran lawmakers who have retired after their time atop influential committees has come to an end, Barton had shown no interest in leaving Congress.
“I’m the odd duck who didn’t quit,” he joked to The Dallas Morning News in an interview this month.
His personal life has been more turbulent than his political career. He divorced his first wife in 1993 and his second wife two years ago.
Barton has young children from his second marriage, and one of them, his 10-year-old son, was at the congressional baseball practice earlier this year when a man sprayed the field with bullets, gravely injuring Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority whip, a lobbyist and a Capitol Police officer. Another police officer was injured as well. Barton is the longtime coach of the Republican baseball team.
Democrats were not planning to aggressively contest Barton’s conservative-leaning seat: His best-funded Democratic challenger, Jana Lynne Sanchez, had only $16,440 on hand as of the start of October.