Cuomo allegations leave Dems grappling with response

Steve Peoples
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Democrats across the country celebrated New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the face of governing competence as President Donald Trump fumbled his administration’s response to the exploding pandemic last year.

Now, the Democratic governor is struggling through a sexual harassment scandal that’s testing the limits of his party’s support as Democrats grapple with one of the first political headaches of the post-Trump era.

So far, few Democrats have come to Cuomo’s rescue. But they haven’t explicitly condemned him, either.

Both of New York’s Democratic U.S. senators have publicly embraced the state attorney general’s nascent investigation into Cuomo’s behavior. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday described the allegations as “deeply troubling and deeply concerning.”

And on Monday, President Joe Biden, a longtime Cuomo ally, declined to stand behind the embattled governor.

‘Dignity and respect’: White House press secretary Jenn Psaki said the president supports the state attorney general’s probe. She noted that Biden requires people to be treated with civility and respect in his administration.

“The president’s view has been consistent and clear,” Psaki said when asked about Cuomo. “Every woman coming forward should be treated with dignity and respect.”

The scrutiny of Cuomo comes at a delicate moment as Democrats work to project unity and competence in contrast to four years of near-constant scandal and norm-shattering behavior under Trump. Cuomo’s scandal also threatens the moral high ground Democrats have sought on issues related to gender and sexual harassment — which are top of mind to many women who abandoned Republicans in droves last fall to help fuel Biden’s victory.

While Democrats across the country are not rallying behind Cuomo, few are calling for him to step down. That’s in contrast to the treatment of former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who ultimately bowed to pressure from within his own party to step down in 2018 after facing accusations of sexual impropriety from several women.

At that time, New York Sen. Kisten Gillibrand was the first Democrat to call on Franken to resign. On Sunday, Gillibrand called the allegations against Cuomo “serious and deeply concerning” and called on State Attorney General Letitia James to conduct “a transparent, independent and thorough investigation with subpoena power.”

Republicans highlighted the relatively cautious response from some Democrats, although the GOP’s criticism of Cuomo directly was somewhat muted given the long list of sexual harassment allegations against Trump.

Cuomo was already facing criticism for his administration’s undercounting of pandemic-related nursing home fatalities last week when a former aide, Lindsey Boylan, elaborated on harassment allegations she first made in December. Boylan said Cuomo subjected her to an unwanted kiss and comments about her appearance.

Calls for an investigation mounted when a second former aide went public Saturday with harassment claims.

Charlotte Bennett, a low-level aide in Cuomo’s administration until November, said Cuomo asked questions about her sex life, including whether she ever had sex with older men, and made other comments she interpreted as gauging her interest in an affair.

Cuomo acknowledged Sunday that some of his behavior with women “may have been insensitive or too personal,” and said he would cooperate with a sexual harassment investigation. He said he had teased people about their personal lives in an attempt to be “playful.”