WASHINGTON (AP) – Kirsten Gillibrand was the first Democratic senator to call for the resignation of colleague Al Franken in 2017 as he faced allegations of sexual misconduct, forging a profile as a leading advocate for women which has become the centerpiece of his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election.
But the New York senator is taking a different tack when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment hitting closer to home, those against her state’s Democratic Governor, Andrew Cuomo.
In a series of statements, Gillibrand said that Cuomo’s accusations of offensive behavior are “serious and deeply concerning” and that the three women “who have come forward have shown immense courage.” She said the allegations against Cuomo were “completely unacceptable” and called for a full investigation – but refrained from demanding his resignation.
Leading Democrats in New York and across the country have also refrained from suggesting Cuomo resign. This includes Senior New York Senator and House Majority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer. It’s a much more cautious approach than the parade of Democratic senators who followed Gillibrand’s lead in calling for Franken’s resignation.
This is fueling the question of whether, more than three years after the start of the #MeToo movement, the pressure to hold powerful men accountable for harassment and sexual abuse is faltering. Gillibrand paid a political price for his role in Franken’s resignation and his tone towards Cuomo may reflect that.
“Our country must do better for women at large,” said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of Women’s March, an advocacy group that emerged from the January 2017 protest when tens of thousands of women called Most dressed in pink, came down. on Washington to protest Donald Trump’s presidency. “Both parties and at all levels of government.”
Franken ultimately resigned, but Democrats later wondered if they had acted too quickly to oust him. During her presidential campaign, Gillibrand was faced with questions about her decision and insisted that she did not regret calling on Franken to relinquish her Senate seat. But she admitted it hurt her with major donors and may have hampered her efforts to earn a following in the top caucuses in Iowa, which borders Minnesota’s Franken state.
Pete Buttigieg, who was essentially tied for first place in Iowa, said when it came to Franken he “wouldn’t have exerted that pressure at that point until we know more” . The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is now President Joe Biden’s transportation secretary.
Carmona’s group went further than Gillibrand and other leading Democrats, calling for an investigation against Cuomo but also demanding his “immediate resignation”, noting that “the conduct does not have to be illegal to be disqualifying.”
Cuomo flatly rejected such calls on Wednesday, saying that while he was “embarrassed” by the allegations, he had no intention of resigning.
“I work for the people of New York State,” the governor said, breaking days of silence at a press conference. “They elected me.”
A spokesperson for Gillibrand declined to say whether the senator was considering calling on Cuomo to resign. But, even in 2017, Gillibrand spent weeks calling for an investigation of Franken and only became the first Democratic senator to say he should step down when rumors of a seventh woman accusing misconduct surfaced.
She also argued that a “double standard” was at work, with her being blamed for her party losing a once rising star to Franken even though so many Democrats ultimately called for her resignation.
“Who is held responsible for Al Franken’s decision to resign?” Women senators, including me, ”said Gillibrand in July 2019, about a month before leaving the presidential race. “It’s scandalous. It’s absurd.”
She is not the only one who sees sexism in the pressure on women to speak out against a man’s alleged wrongdoing. But Gillibrand has promoted herself as a feminist leader and champion of women’s rights, and the Cuomo scandal concerns her state.
Gillibrand founded an activist group called Off the Sidelines, which has raised millions of dollars to help mobilize more women into politics, and for years he has loved being sometimes referred to as the ‘#MeToo Senator’ .
“We all wish she had more courage right now, but she’s not history and she shouldn’t be history,” said Rebecca Katz, a Democratic consultant in New York City, who said that to equate Gillibrand with Cuomo’s alleged misconduct is “to miss the whole thing.” point.”
Gillibrand nevertheless saw his national profile decline after his presidential candidacy.
She campaigned for Biden last fall. But unlike several other Senate colleagues who competed against Biden for the Democratic nomination, Gillibrand was never seriously considered a top option to be Biden’s running mate, despite his long-standing promise to pick a woman.
Already a senator for a dozen years, Gillibrand, 54, has time to mount another presidential election, although questions about her handling of the scandal involving Franken – and now perhaps even her reaction to Cuomo – may linger.
“We need to stop blaming women for harassing men,” Katz said. “Sen. Gillibrand has taken a lot of visitors for rightly calling Al Franken many years ago – for being one of many to call Al Franken. We are doing this wrong. “