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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Senate — for a sexually suggestive picture taken before he was in office — and called for Kavanaugh's nomination to be withdrawn, saying two allegations "is an embarrassment."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.

Go deeper

Feb 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.

Updated Feb 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Cuomo asks for "independent" investigator into sexual harassment claims

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference on Feb. 24. Photo: Seth Wenig/pool/AFP via Getty Images

A top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that he would authorize and "voluntarily cooperate" with an independent investigation run by New York's attorney general into claims he sexually harassed several women.

The state of play: The statement comes after a day of competing statements from Cuomo and AG Letitcia James over who would oversee an independent investigation into the governor.

Cuomo says words may have been "misinterpreted" following allegations of harassment

Andrew Cuomo at a Feb. 22 news conference. Photo: Seth Wenig/pool/AF via Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a lengthy statement on Sunday saying he "never inappropriately touched anybody" but acknowledged that "some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation," after two of his former aides accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Prior to Cuomo's statement, in which he adds that he "never inappropriately touched anybody" or meant to make anyone uncomfortable, the governor's office and the state attorney general went back and forth in a public disagreement about how to investigate the allegations.