POLITICS

Trump Court Pick Neomi Rao Says She Regrets Blaming Women For Date Rape

The D.C. Circuit Court nominee said she’s also not sure why she argued that "dangerous feminist idealism" leads women to think they are equal to men.

WASHINGTON ― Neomi Rao, President Donald Trump’s nominee to a lifetime seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, said she regrets her past articles that blamed women for date rape and claimed that “dangerous feminist idealism” teaches women they are equal to men.

During her Tuesday Senate confirmation hearing, Rao, 45, who is on track to fill the court seat vacated by now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, faced awkward questions from senators in both parties over articles she wrote as a Yale University student in the mid-1990s. She’s raised eyebrows with her musings on race, LGBTQ issues and climate change, but her writings on sexual assault and date rape have gotten the most attention.

In a 1994 op-ed in The Yale Herald, Rao argued that “a woman, like a man, decides when and how much to drink. And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice.” She wrote that “a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” In an April 1993 piece in the Yale Free Press, Rao argued that the “controversy” over date rape “has been painted in terms of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, reducing sex to something merely consensual.” She said “non-verbal communication plays an undeniable role,” and though she is “not arguing that date rape victims ask for it, when playing the modern dating game, women have to understand and accept the consequences of their sexuality.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who recently revealed that she was raped in college, told Rao that her past writings “give me pause.”

“Not just from my own personal experiences, but regarding a message that we are sending young women everywhere,” said Ernst. “I’ve said time and time again that we need to change the culture around sexual violence.”

The senator proceeded with some blunt questioning.

“Do you believe that rape is wrong?”

“Absolutely.”

“Who is at fault in a rape?”

“The rapist, the man who commits the rape.”

Ernst pressed Rao on another controversial claim she made in Rao’s 1993 article: that “dangerous feminist idealism” teaches women that they are equal.

“I very much regret that statement,” Rao replied, saying she strongly believes in the equality of men and women. “I’m honestly not sure why I wrote that.”

Ernst later told HuffPost she is undecided on how she’ll vote on Rao and is hoping to meet with her.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told Neomi Rao that her past writings on date rape and sexual assault "give me pause" on confirming
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told Neomi Rao that her past writings on date rape and sexual assault "give me pause" on confirming her to a lifetime federal court seat.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked Rao to explain her argument, in her 1993 piece, that “date rape exemplifies the attempts of the nurture feminist to develop an artificial, alternative world in which women are free from sexual danger and no always means no.”

“In your current view, when does no not mean no?” asked Harris.

“Senator, no means no,” said Rao. “I regret writing that when I was in college.”

Harris pressed Rao on her other claims that a good way for a woman to avoid being date raped is “to stay reasonably sober,” and that if a woman drinks too much to where she can no longer choose whether to have sex, “getting to that point was her choice.”

“Senator, I was only trying to make the commonsense observation about the relationship between drinking and becoming a victim,” said Rao.

“Do you stand by those comments?” interjected Harris.

“I do not,” Rao replied. “I would not express myself that way today.”

“A good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober." Neomi Rao in a 1994 issue of The Yale Herald

Despite Rao expressing regrets, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he saw nothing wrong with her comments on women staying sober to avoid getting date raped.

“I have two daughters,” Cruz said. “I certainly intend to give them the advice not to drink to excess. And it is unquestionably true that any student that drinks to the points of getting drunk and losing control risks being a victim, risks being vulnerable.”

Rao largely ignored questions about whether she would recuse herself from cases that are related to her current job as the administrator of the Office of Informational and Regulatory Affairs. The agency is a division of the Office of Management and Budget that evaluates federal government regulations, and in her role here, Rao has helped the Trump administration weaken policies relating to clean power plants, sexual assault regulations and race discrimination in housing. The D.C. Circuit has jurisdiction over federal agencies and plays a central part in interpreting the role of agencies.

Rao said only that she would “look carefully at the statutory standards of recusal” when certain issues come before the court.

In an unexpected turn, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) raised concerns about Rao’s views on dwarf tossing. It turns out Rao wrote a 2011 article about a town in France that banned dwarf tossing and a local dwarf who fought the ban because he made his living off of letting other people throw him around for sport.

“He said the ban affected his dignitary interests,” said Rao. “But in my article, I don’t take a position one way or another on these issues.”

Hirono disagreed.

“I think your article has been interpreted as you are okay with dwarf tossing,” said the senator.

The committee will likely vote on Rao’s nomination in the coming weeks. Given Republicans’ solid majority in the Senate, Rao is all but certain to advance out of the committee and get confirmed on the Senate floor.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.

CONVERSATIONS