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- While Democrats and Republicans have diverged in their response to allegations of sexual misconduct, leaders on both sides of the aisle have delivered inconsistent messages.
- Politicians are being forced to clarify their positions on the issue as a national spotlight on sexual harassment and abuse is shone on Capitol Hill.
Amid an intensifying national conversation about sexual misconduct, political leaders and media commentators are speaking out about the issue and, in some cases, delivering inconsistent messages.
On the left, some top lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have been hesitant to condemn political allies accused of sexual misconduct, while other liberal leaders, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, have made advocacy for survivors of sexual assault central to their policy agenda.
Political leaders on the right, most prominently President Donald Trump – whom 19 women have accused of sexual misconduct – have flip-flopped on the issue, promoting accusations made against political foes and undermining those made against allies.
As the spotlight on sexual misconduct shines on Washington, Democrats are attempting to seize moral authority in the debate, by ousting members of their own party stained by accusations, and strengthening their attacks on Republicans accused of sexual misconduct, chief among them the president and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Here’s what four top Republicans and four top Democrats have said about sexual misconduct:
On the right: President Donald Trump
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Trump is arguably the most powerful person in the country facing allegations of sexual misconduct.
The president maintains that all 19 women who allege he sexually harassed or abused them are “liars,” and the White House has argued in official statements that his election settled the issue of whether Americans care about the accusations.
In the same breath, Trump has praised the women who have come forward across the country with their stories of sexual abuse, and endorsed Moore. The Alabama Senate candidate was accused of sexually pursuing and molesting teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore lost the election on December 12.
“I think it’s a very special time, a lot of things are coming out, and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very, very good for women,” Trump said last month of the #MeToo movement. “I’m very happy it’s being exposed.”
Trump has publicly called out Democrats and members of the media, including NBC host Matt Lauer and Sen. Al Franken, who were both ousted for sexual misconduct allegations, but consistently defended his friends and political allies stained by similar allegations, including former Fox News chief Roger Ailes and Moore.
On the left: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Pelosi, a longtime advocate of women’s rights, has at times hesitated to condemn men, particularly Democrats, accused of sexual misconduct.
She initially refused to criticize Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat accused of sexually harassing former employees, calling him a civil rights “icon,” and arguing that he deserved “due process.”
After more allegations against Conyers surfaced, Pelosi changed her position, calling the stories “very credible,” and pressed the 88-year-old lawmaker to resign.
“Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone,” she said. “No matter how great the legacy, it is no license to harass or discriminate.”
Back in 2013, Pelosi was also reluctant to condemn a former 10-term member of Congress, Rep. Bob Filner, who later became the mayor of San Diego, after 13 women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct.
“What goes on in San Diego is up to the people of San Diego,” she said at the time.
But in early December, Pelosi immediately called for Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a Nevada Democrat, to resign after allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed a former aide.
On the right: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
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A longtime promoter of a no-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct, McConnell has recently wavered on this position.
In 2007, McConnell helped force Sen. Larry Craig from office after the Idaho Republican was arrested in an undercover sex sting at the Minneapolis airport.
And as the head of the Senate Ethics Committee in 1995, he helped oust Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon after the powerful Republican was accused of sexual abuse and harassment by his female staffers.
But the top Republican has not abided by the same principled stance in the cases of Trump and Moore.
While he initially advocated for the Alabama Senate candidate to withdraw from the race, saying he believes the women have accused Moore, McConnell later refused to take sides, saying he’s “going to let the people of Alabama make the call,” after Trump officially endorsed Moore and the Republican party reinstated its support for the embattled candidate.
McConnell’s wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, said recently that she’s experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, but warned women that dredging up past bad experiences “holds you back.”
On the left: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, called for an ethics investigation into the allegations made against Franken in November, but he was less aggressive than many of his Senate colleagues in pressing the Minnesota Democrat to leave office.
Schumer notably did not join his colleagues in calling on Franken to resign until after Franken announced he would make a statement following reporting on a seventh allegation made against him.
As was widely expected, Franken announced his resignation after a chorus of mostly female Democratic senators publicly pressured him to leave office.
On the right: House Speaker Paul Ryan
Ryan has called the recent flood of sexual misconduct allegations both in Washington and around the country “a defining moment” in history and says he’s fighting to hold his colleagues on Capitol Hill to “high standards.”
“We are having a watershed moment in this country,” Ryan told NPR last month. “I think we’re all realizing that sexual harassment in America is absolutely pervasive and it’s got to go and we need to end it.”
But in that same interview, the Wisconsin Republican struggled to explain what distinction may be drawn between the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Moore, who Ryan pressed to abandon his Senate bid, and those made against Trump.
While Ryan said he has “differences” with the president’s “unconventional” style, he refused to comment on his alleged history of sexual misconduct and demurred when asked whether Trump meets the “high standards” Ryan said he stands for.
On the left: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
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Gillibrand, a possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, is perhaps the most outspoken senator on issues of sexual misconduct.
For years, Gillibrand has fought sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. Most recently, she championed a bill to reform the process Congress uses for sexual misconduct complaints.
In mid-November, Gillibrand made waves when she said former President Bill Clinton should have resigned following his affair with Monica Lewinsky, then a 22-year-old White House intern, in the 1990s.
In early December, Gillibrand was among a majority of Senate Democrats who called on Franken, a personal friend and close ally, to resign amid mounting accusations of sexual misconduct.
“When we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation,” she said during news conference in which she asked Franken to resign.
“You need to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘None of it is okay. None of it is acceptable.'”
And on December 11, Gillibrand joined a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers calling for Trump to resign and for Congress to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
On the right: Fox News host Sean Hannity
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Hannity, widely viewed as one of the most influential conservatives in media, has simultaneously promoted accusations of sexual misconduct made against Democrats and questioned or ignored those made against prominent Republicans.
Last month, Hannity inserted himself into the debate surrounding Moore by interviewing the Senate candidate, later calling Moore’s defense that he did not “remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother” inadequate, and ultimately refusing to weigh in on the issue, saying that Alabama voters should make the decision for themselves.
“When everything comes out, they will make the best decision for their state,” Hannity said of Alabama voters. “It shouldn’t be decided by me, by people on television, by Mitch McConnell, Washington, talk show hosts, news people.”
Hannity extensively covered the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse made against prominent liberals, including former President Bill Clinton and Hollywood movie mogul and top Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein.
But he barely covered the sexual harassment scandals that have plagued Fox News in recent years, most notably those concerning former Fox chief Roger Ailes and top host Bill O’Reilly. Hannity controversially welcomed O’Reilly onto his show to promote his book months after he was fired from Fox.
On the left: MSNBC Host Chris Hayes
Hayes, a popular MSNBC host, was one of the first liberal voices to call for the left to re-examine its response to the allegations of sexual harassment and assault made against Clinton.
In November, a week before Franken’s first accuser went public, Hayes argued that liberals are “overdue for a real reckoning” with Clinton’s history.
“As gross and cynical and hypocrtical [sic] as the right’s ‘what about Bill Clinton’ stuff is, it’s also true that Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him,” Hayes tweeted, pointing to a Buzzfeed story concerning Juanita Broaddrick’s claim that Clinton raped her in a hotel room in 1978.
Since then, Gillibrand, a prominent ally of the Clintons, has said that Clinton should have resigned from the presidency as a result of his sex affair with Monica Lewinsky.