Catching Up With Rep. David Wu

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 3 2011 2:59 PM

Catching Up With Rep. David Wu

I haven't written much about the saga of Rep. David Wu, an Oregon Democrat who won re-election last year despite finishing his campaign with a flurry of erratic, confusing behavior. In January, the Oregonian reported on just how erratic  he'd become based on the accounts of staffers who had left his office. He talked his way past a security checkpoint for no apparent reason. He talked incoherently to staffers. He sent weird e-mails late at night, the weirdest one being a photo of himself wearing a tiger costume .

Wu avoided media for a little while, but he started talking last week. Yes, he was prescribed Ambien and Valium in 2008. Yes, his marital separation dragged him down in 2010. At one point he left his prescription painkillers in D.C. and took painkillers offered by a campaign donor in Oregon.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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I've struggled with depression in the past, so I didn't make fun of Wu's story as it blew up. But I caught up with him today after a vote in the House.

"I'm doing well," he said. "I'm doing very well. My kids are doing well -- they're getting straight As now. Whatever rough patch there was is over." He's in therapy and he's taking medication, figuring out what kind of treatment he needs "week by week."

It was clear from the conversation that Wu has turned his focus from damage control to telling his story (very carefully, with a modicum of details) and looking at mental health-related legislation he can endorse. The media churn seems to be over, he said.

"The national media has been more measured about things," he said, "but if you give folks a photographic image, then that goes... broadly. Even if you're goofing around with your kids, even if it's two nights before Halloween, don't take photos. If you do take photos, don't e-mail them to your staffers."

"I went through a media trial," he continued. "If by speaking out, some people are encouraged to seek the help that they need, but also to be as open about it as they want to be, then something very positive has come out of this episode. As for my own life? Shoot, there was a longer period of difficulty. The last two years have been difficult. There was a rough patch in October, when my domestic situation and a very difficult campaign for Democrats in general, me in particular, all came together."

Wu has not denied any of the details in the Oregonian's stories about his 2010 problems, and he's still planning to run for re-election. In December, he said, he had planned on working with Rep. Patrick Kennedy's staff to figure out what mental health legislation he could take the lead on after Kennedy retired. The meeting never happened, but that's still Wu's plan.

"I'm very interested in his mental health parity legislation," he said. "Maybe establishing parity in a health care system that consumes 16.5% of GDP isn't too much to ask given the burden of mental health as a burden on patients and individuals, and as an economic cost." He was optimistic about getting co-sponsors, in part because of his unwanted attention. "My colleagues have been supportive, and it's been roughly an equal number of Democrats and Republicans talking to me."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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