'Me Too' Fervor, Politics Fuel Dems' Calls for Trump to Resign
Democrats know President Trump is not going to resign amid renewed sexual misconduct allegations, some of which he famously talked about on a recording released during the 2016 campaign. But a growing number of them are calling on him to quit anyway.
Having established a no-tolerance policy in their party by pushing out Sen. Al Franken last week, Democrats believe they have grounds to shine the spotlight not just on the other side of the aisle, but also at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The calls for Trump to step aside started among a few senators with their presidential ambitions of their own, raising the possibility of a new litmus test for holding the nation’s highest office.
Such a demand does carry risks for party members, making them look overtly political on a significant and emotional issue. In addition, it could force them to reckon with Bill Clinton's transgressions while in office and evoke the impeachment effort waged by Republicans against the then-president in the 1990s, which backfired at the ballot box.
Indeed, many Democratic lawmakers have been exercising caution regarding resignation talk, instead condemning the president's behavior while stopping short of urging him to leave office. But others see more of an imperative, given the cultural sea change on sexual harassment, and a political benefit for the party. And unlike calls for impeachment, calls for resignation are much easier, legally and rhetorically, to make.
On Tuesday, Trump appeared to help the latter cause by going after Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Twitter. After the New York Democrat joined caucus colleagues Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker in saying the president should resign, Trump called her a "lightweight" who "would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)." Trump also said she was being "disloyal to Bill," referencing the criticism Gillibrand garnered from fellow Democrats by saying recently the former president should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The tweet amounted to a sort of in-kind donation to a potential Gillibrand presidential campaign. Her colleagues immediately came to her defense in vigorous terms, raising questions about what the president implied with the words "begging" and "would do anything."
"Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame @SenGillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with?" wrote Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth described the president's tweet as an attempt to "publicly shame yet another woman" and called Trump "a cancer on the country, and a truly disgraceful human being."
For her part, Gillibrand, who has been outspoken on the issue of sexual assault in the military, fired back: "You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office."
Last week, the second-term senator was the first of her colleagues to call on Franken to resign, and moments later a chorus of similar calls began. Once considered a Blue Dog Democrat while serving in the House, and now the occupant of Hillary Clinton's old seat, Gillibrand has become an increasingly prominent figure on the liberal stage and is considered a potential 2020 contender.
In an interview with CNN International on Monday, she said Trump "should be fully investigated and he should resign." That morning, three of the more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct before he took office held a press conference and appeared on the “Today” show. They called for a congressional investigation into the president’s behavior, and asked why their claims have not been taken as seriously as those leveled at members of Congress who have now resigned or are on their way out.
In addition to Gillibrand, Sanders, and Booker, Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Mazie Hirono have also said Trump should step down.
Trump's tweets Tuesday are likely to add more fuel to this fire.
"Now that there is a track record of numerous elected officials resigning for less than what Trump has admitted to and has been accused of, it's only practical he is held to the same standard," said Emily Tisch Sussman, campaigns director for the Center for American Progress, arguing that the cultural shift on the issue helps Democrats’ calls seem less partisan.
On Tuesday, 56 female Democratic members of the House wrote a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Oversight Committee urging an investigation.
"In the time of 'Me Too,' women across the country are coming forward with their own harrowing stories of sexual harassment and assault. Members of Congress have also come under scrutiny and investigation, with some resigning, for improper sexual conduct," the lawmakers wrote. "We cannot ignore the multitude of women who have come forward with accusations against Mr. Trump. With that said, the President should be allowed to present evidence in his own defense."
The president and the White House have continued to deny and dismiss the allegations. After the infamous "Access Hollywood" recording surfaced, Trump brought forward women who had accused President Clinton of sexual harassment and assault, even inviting them to his presidential debate with Hillary Clinton.
“The people of this country, at a decisive election, supported President Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Monday. "The American people knew this and voted for the president." Sanders also said the White House would release eyewitness accounts to refute the claims, but has yet to do so.
Trump accused Democrats of playing politics. "Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia - so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met," he tweeted.
The White House stance stood in contrast with comments made by U.N Ambassador Nikki Haley, who said during a television interview Sunday that "women who accuse anyone should be heard. ... I know he was elected, but women should always feel comfortable coming forward."