WASHINGTON ― Democrats are grappling with how best to tackle the allegations of sexual harassment against President Donald Trump now that they have pushed Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who was also accused of sexual misconduct, from their midst.
Some Democrats say that Trump should resign over the allegations numerous women have levied against him. Several of those women told their stories again this week as part of a growing movement to hold powerful men accountable for their actions.
“These allegations are credible; they are numerous. I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said this week.
Other Democrats, however, questioned the point of calling on Trump to do something he’s unlikely to do. While they welcomed the prospect of an investigation into Trump’s past, those lawmakers argued that Democrats should focus on challenging Trump in other ways instead.
“Look, he’s not going to resign,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the Democratic vice presidential nominee in last year’s presidential election, told HuffPost on Tuesday. “So let’s not play games. He has no shame. There’s nothing you can do to shame him into resigning. So we just have to play the role that we have to be an emergency brake against all the ways he’s abusing people and our values and our country’s reputation.”
Look, he’s not going to resign. So let’s not play games. He has no shame. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)
Most Democrats seemed more comfortable with a half-measure ― calling on Congress to hold hearings into the allegations against Trump. Nearly 60 Democratic congresswomen signed a letter on Monday urging the House Oversight Committee to investigate, and several Democratic senators followed suit on Tuesday.
“The president should be held accountable for his conduct, so I believe that there should be some way that is done,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said.
Asked whether Trump should resign over the allegations, however, Cardin said he was “going to hold off on that question.”
Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) similarly raised concerns about the allegations, but stopped short of calling on Trump to step down.
Democrats’ differing stances reflect the difficulty of figuring out a unified message ahead of next year’s congressional midterm elections. Politically, it may be safer to call for an investigation into the allegations against Trump than for an outright resignation or even impeachment. Those more extreme measures could backfire in places Trump carried in last year’s presidential election that Democrats are now targeting.
Notably, no Democratic senators representing states Trump carried last year joined calls for his resignation. Those who did include prominent progressives, including Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is up for re-election next year in a state Trump carried by nearly 11,000 votes, said she “certainly would support” a congressional inquiry into the allegations against him. But she declined to say whether Trump ought to step down, noting only that she didn’t support him during the election.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said Trump needed to be held accountable, and that he would “be looking at what the proper venues” would be where that could happen.
Notably, no Democratic senators representing states Trump carried last year joined calls for his resignation.
Republicans, meanwhile, flatly dismissed talk of an investigation into the allegations against Trump as political gamesmanship. Even those who criticized Franken for his actions defended Roy Moore, the Alabama GOP Senate candidate accused of preying on minors.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the allegations against Trump a moot issue.
“Those allegations were vigorously ligated during the 2016 election. The American people had them before them,” Cruz said.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said Congress had the power to investigate the president, but added that “the most prominent the way you do that is with impeachment, and that’s not on the table at this point.”
Asked if Congress should investigate sexual assault allegations against Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “What we’re in charge of here is the Senate.”
Republicans also ducked questions about Trump’s attacks against Gillibrand, whom he called a “lightweight” and “a total flunky” on Twitter. The president claimed the New York Democrat “begged” him for campaign donations in the past and “would do anything for them” ― a phrase Gillibrand and other Democrats singled out as a “sexist smear.”
“It was disgusting. It’s clear what he was getting at,” a visibly angry Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told reporters on Capitol Hill. “He was disgusting.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders disputed that characterization, however, telling reporters on Tuesday there is “no way” Trump’s tweet was sexist. “Only if your mind is in the gutter” would one get that impression, she said.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) apologized that she could not comment on Trump’s tweet about Gillibrand because she doesn’t “follow his Twitter.”
After a reporter offered to show her the tweet, Ernst said, “No, I would rather not. Thank you.”