Gillibrand on calling for Al Franken's resignation: I ain't sorry

You’re about to witness history — the first semi-effective political answer Kirsten Gillibrand’s ever given.

At least since 2008, when she was the most hardcore border hawk in the Democratic caucus.

Her handling of the sexual harassment allegations against Franken isn’t a boutique issue. As she notes at the end of the clip, there are wealthy Democratic donors furious at her for leading the charge to push Franken, a reliable progressive, out of the Senate after he was accused by eight women of offenses like forcible kissing and ass-grabbing. Gillibrand gave the only answer she could here for someone running an ostentatiously feminist presidential campaign — let ’em be mad — and dressed it up with a well-crafted story about explaining to her son what proper behavior by a man should be.

But she’s dodging the core complaint. The issue isn’t whether it was appropriate to treat the accusations against Franken as credible and serious; the issue per Franken fans is whether it was appropriate to ask him to resign his office before he’d received any kind of due process. Gillibrand is cavalier about that, noting that Franken could have demanded a Senate ethics hearing or even sued his accusers for defamation, which is true. But it’s too easy to say what Franken could have done. The question is why Gillibrand did what she did, pressuring Franken to resign instead of waiting for some formal finding of fact before forming a judgment. A choice bit from her statement on the matter, published December 6, 2017:

Enough is enough. The women who have come forward are brave and I believe them. While it’s true that his behavior is not the same as the criminal conduct alleged against Roy Moore, or Harvey Weinstein, or President Trump, it is still unquestionably wrong, and should not be tolerated by those of us who are privileged to work in public service.

As the mother of two young boys, we owe it to our sons and daughters to not equivocate, but to offer clarity. We should not have to be explaining the gradations between sexual assault, harassment and unwelcome groping. And what message do we send to our sons and daughters when we accept gradations of crossing the line? None of it is ok and none of it should be tolerated…

While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve.

That position was understandable in the context of the moment: Harvey Weinstein had been exposed just two months earlier and #MeToo was taking off nationally. Democrats wanted to send a message about zero tolerance within their own ranks, reasoning (not irrationally) that a man with eight different accusers is highly unlikely to be innocent on all counts. And Gillibrand, eyeing a presidential run, wanted to set the pace among 2020 Democrats in standing up for accusers. “Understood,” said Frankenites, “but zero tolerance for harassment and respect for Franken’s accusers needn’t mean pressuring him to forgo all forms of due process. How is it ‘better for our country’ to set a precedent in which a popular public servant can be forced out over bare allegations instead of being judged guilty by an arbiter?” What’s Gillibrand’s answer to that?

It can’t be that the sheer number of accusers was the deciding factor for her. Ten months later, after Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of attempted rape despite not having a single contemporaneous witness to support her and not even a memory of where or when the attack took place, Gillibrand declared that she believed Ford and said she thought the claim was “disqualifying” to his Supreme Court chances.

A few months after that, when a single accuser claimed that Virginia’s Democratic lieutenant governor had sexually assaulted her years before, Gillibrand was suddenly more circumspect. She “supported” the accuser, she said, staying mum initially on whether she believed her or whether Justin Fairfax should step down. That would have been a useful follow-up question for Chris Hayes here. What changed? How’d we get to Kavanaugh being disqualified for one claim to Franken needing to leave over eight to Fairfax earning equivocation on one? (Gillibrand did finally call for his resignation after a second accuser spoke up.) It can’t be a pure partisan thing. Is it a reflection that the potency of #MeToo has waned a bit in the past 18 months?

The truth is that Dems like her learned a hard lesson from the Franken matter: Not all Democrats want a zero-tolerance approach if it’ll cost the party something important, especially after having watched the entire GOP go to the mat for Kavanaugh. Dems like Fairfax and Keith Ellison who’ve been accused within the past year have held onto their careers, at least for now. If Franken were still there and his accusers came forward today, I expect he’d be criticized by Gillibrand but that she’d be far more welcoming to letting him stay pending a Senate ethics review than she was in 2017. Especially now that this problem has invaded her own Senate office and cost her more than one employee.

Oh, she was also asked about immigration at last night’s townhall and assured the audience that “there is no such thing as an illegal human,” which is pretty much the perfect Gillibrand 2019 answer: Mawkish, pandering, all but free of content, and betraying a strong instinct towards completely open borders.

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