One of the most confounding things in American politics right now is the Democratic response toward back-to-back-to-back allegations in recent days that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed two female aides and acted inappropriately with another woman he had just met at a wedding.
Let’s start with what we know about the Democratic Party of late. The party has consistently shown it believes that when it comes to more than one accusation of sexual harassment, the alleged victims are to be heard and believed. It’s a different standard than Republications have set forth. For Democrats, there is a zero-tolerance policy.
This was true for Senator Al Franken, who was forced to resign. This was true for the unified response to allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. This is true for less high-profile cases involving Democratic staff members. And just last week in Massachusetts, it was true ahead of a Democratic primary for a special election for state representative.
But this has not been true for Cuomo. Last week former aide Lindsey Boylan, 36, detailed in a long blog post that Cuomo, among other things, asked her to play strip poker on a government airplane and forcibly kissed her in his Manhattan office without permission. Then, on Saturday night the New York Times chronicled the story from a second former Cuomo aide, Charlotte Bennett, 25, who said she too was harassed. Bennett concluded, in part, “I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared.”
What happened next? Cuomo himself responded, saying he often “teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married.” He also said he was sorry, but noted that he was just joking around.
He then called for an investigation. Amazingly the Democratic establishment in New York ― home to some of the most progressive and aggressive politics in the country — for the most part accepted his position, calling for an investigation to play out.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who led the calls for Franken to resign, said an investigation was the way to go. Fellow New York Senator Chuck Schumer agreed. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who usually pushes the conversation, also backed an investigation. Andrew Yang, the leading candidate for New York City mayor this year, issued a statement supporting an investigation.
But what is there to investigate anyway?
An investigation suggests that there are facts to find out. In the case of Bennett, the facts appear to be agreed upon and established to a certain degree. What needs to be established is Cuomo’s intent, something that no investigation can resolve.
What an investigation does do is buy time in the hopes that people will simply move on from a political crisis involving a popular governor. And by refusing to condemn him now, Democrats are lending a hand to that effort by team Cuomo.
Consider what happened on Monday night when the New York Times published a new story, this time about a Democratic operative who said she met Cuomo at a wedding for her friends in September 2019. After some pleasantries, she said he touched the small of her back, placed his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her. And, in case anyone doubts the story, there is even a photo of his hands on her face.
Even then only one of New York’s 19 Democratic members of Congress called on him to resign. The rest have either been silent or reiterated calls for an investigation, again in violation of their own self-imposed zero-tolerance policy in the face of credible allegations.
It makes no sense. Remember, Democrats didn’t wait for the results of an investigation on Franken, or Democratic staff members, or the episode involving Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who was accused of pursuing relationships with UMass students weeks before his Congressional primary election but was later found not to have violated the school’s sexual harassment policy.
But remember that Cuomo has been through rough patches before and he has been uniquely good at keeping his approval rating high among New York voters. He also doesn’t seem inclined to resign any time soon. In other words, there is a chance that calling for his ouster will backfire. He can simply decide not to resign and remain a powerful governor who has recently threatened “to destroy” a lawmaker who questioned him.
Still there becomes a point when this is simply politically unsustainable. Will they actually call for him to go at that point?
At this point, with the facts being agreed to, this situation is less about Cuomo than it is the Democratic Party.