Updated Feb 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Cuomo scandal snares Dems on #MeToo

Illustration of Governor Andrew Cuomo casting a long shadow on the Democrat donkey
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images   

The searing sexual harassment allegations made against Gov. Andrew Cuomo are trouble for Democrats far beyond Albany and New York.

Why it matters: They hammered Donald Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape. Pilloried Brett Kavanaugh over Christine Blasey Ford. Defended President Biden when he was accused of inappropriate touching. Now, Democrats have to show whether they walk the "#MeToo" talk.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki treaded the narrow line Sunday. She displayed empathy by referring to Cuomo's accusers as "Charlotte" and "Lindsey," and told CNN: "It was hard to read that story, as a woman."

  • Psaki also previewed the line adopted by most Democrats: They support an investigation into the contentions, a version of which Cuomo also has endorsed.
  • Team Cuomo issued three statements on the matter Sunday, ultimately saying the governor had asked state Attorney General Letitia James to select an independent attorney of her choosing to investigate.

The backstory: The biggest critics are facing pressure to treat Cuomo the same way they aggressively went after the Republicans.

  • Then-Sen. Kamala Harris called for Kavanaugh's impeachment a year after his nomination hearings, when two New York Times reporters wrote they found new corroborating evidence to support previous sexual misconduct allegations. 
  • Several other then-2020 Democratic presidential contenders also called for his impeachment, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
  • Biden, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also said the new allegations warranted further investigation.
  • Cory Booker, who, as a New Jersey senator, has close ties to Cuomo, was celebrated by his Democratic colleagues for daring Republicans to try to expel him from the Senate. He publicly revealed some of Kavanaugh's emails the then-GOP majority had ruled confidential.

Today, New York Democrats face special heat.

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand helped run Al Franken out of the Senate — for a sexually suggestive picture taken before he was in office — and called for Kavanaugh's nomination to be withdrawn, saying two allegations "is an embarrassment."
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently divulged her experience as a victim of sexual assault, likening callous treatment of victims to Republicans urging Democrats to "get over" the U.S. Capitol siege.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had called to postpone Kavanaugh's confirmation vote after Blasey Ford "won America's hearts" with her allegations of his drunken advances.

What they're saying: Most lawmakers made their comments about Cuomo through the safety of a written statement, a luxury they won't have when they return to the Capitol Hill free-for-all this week.

  • Gillibrand said: "There must be an independent, transparent and swift investigation into these serious and deeply concerning allegations.”
  • AOC tweeted the contentions were "extremely serious and painful to read." She added: "There must be an independent investigation — not one led by an individual selected by the governor, but by the office of the attorney general."
  • A Schumer spokesman said: “Sen. Schumer has long believed sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated, and that allegations should be thoroughly and independently investigated.”

Be smart: Cuomo has a reputation as a political bully, so there's no love lost with many Democrats. And he already faced pressure not to seek a third term in 2022 after his team acknowledged concealing COVID-19 nursing home deaths.

  • A huge field could split any anti-Cuomo vote, but Democrats may pressure him to save them before by saying — at the very least — he won't run for reelection.
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