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Allegations Against Cuomo Reignite a #MeToo Debate for Democrats




Stephanie Miner is no friend of Andrew Cuomo.

A onetime top Democratic official in New York and a former mayor of Syracuse, Ms. Miner has spent years criticizing the governor’s polarizing leadership style, even mounting a bid to unseat him in 2018. But as Mr. Cuomo fights for his job, facing growing calls by Democratic lawmakers to resign over allegations of groping and sexual harassment, Ms. Miner isn’t quite ready to push him out.

“We have this culture now of purity tests where there’s this instant gratification — are you on the right side or the wrong side?” said Ms. Miner, who wants to wait for an independent investigation into the accusations, which she believes is the best way to address broader problems of sexual harassment in Albany. “The answers and the solutions need to be more nuanced.”

Democrats are now confronting a highly fluid, still-developing situation in New York, with many voters appearing to share Ms. Miner’s caution about swiftly expelling the governor. The gravity of the allegations increased this week when The Times Union of Albany reported a new accusation against Mr. Cuomo: that when he was alone with a female aide in the Executive Mansion last year, he closed a door, reached under her blouse and began groping her. On Thursday, Democratic officials took the first step toward potentially impeaching Mr. Cuomo. He has denied that he touched anyone inappropriately.

Public opinion could shift rapidly against Mr. Cuomo, but it is also clear that after a decade with him as governor, Democrats are finding that sitting in judgment of him — and demanding a penalty like resignation — isn’t so simple. For some, the question of Mr. Cuomo’s future has intensified a conversation that has been happening within the party since Senator Al Franken resigned in 2018: What should happen to powerful liberal male politicians who are publicly accused of sexual misconduct?

Four years into the #MeToo movement, there’s little consensus among Democrats around the appropriate process for handling such claims or the punishment for them. Until recently the allegations against Mr. Cuomo were mostly in the realm of sexual harassment, and Democratic voters have expressed reluctance to call for a resignation over such accusations without an investigation, according to interviews and exchanges with dozens of them this week. The groping claim rises to an accusation of assault, which has made some Democrats more open to his stepping down.

Yet a number expressed their view that Democratic officials accused of sexual misconduct have lost their jobs in recent years while Republicans haven’t — a misperception mostly driven by impressions of Mr. Franken’s resignation. It is a sentiment intertwined with lingering feelings about former President Donald J. Trump, who many Democrats believe never paid a political price after being accused of far worse treatment of women.

In remarks on Friday afternoon, Mr. Cuomo stoked those concerns, saying he had no plans to resign his position and insinuating political motives behind the accusations. He asked voters not to make quick judgments about him, even though Mr. Cuomo has done so with others before, such as his call for Eric T. Schneiderman to resign as attorney general in 2018 as he faced detailed physical assault allegations.

“People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture and the truth,” Mr. Cuomo said. “A lot of people allege a lot of things for a lot of reasons.”

Meredith Pilat of New York City said that her view of Mr. Cuomo had shifted after the accusation of groping and that she could no longer defend his actions. But she still wants an investigation and does not believe he should be impeached without “hard-core evidence.”

“I think he deserves his day in court and the opportunity to defend himself. Everyone these days rushes to condemn, especially in politics, and that needs to stop,” she said. “While what he allegedly did was certainly not right, it doesn’t even come close to some of the antics from the other side.”

She added, “When I watch the Republican Party play dirty every day, I get a bit annoyed at the double standard imposed on Democrats.”

Beyond Mr. Franken, who was accused of groping and forcibly kissing women, only a handful of prominent Democratic politicians have lost their jobs as a result of allegations of sexual harassment or assault. Fewer still have hurt their party’s grip on power: Mr. Franken, who represented Minnesota, was replaced in the Senate by another Democrat, Tina Smith, who won re-election by a comfortable margin last year.

“My worry is that people have some sort of contorted idea that #MeToo has meant lots of powerful people losing their jobs,” said Fatima Goss Graves, the president of the National Women’s Law Center. “The truth of the matter is, we are still in the midst of a really important reckoning that hopefully will allow people to work and live with safety and equity.”

Still, concerns about Mr. Franken’s resignation persist for some Democratic voters, prompting some politicians to change their approach toward claims of sexual misconduct. The independent investigation into the allegations against Mr. Cuomo — as well as an inquiry authorized by the New York State Assembly on Thursday — creates a process for handling accusations in a way that may be perceived as fairer by the public.

“There were some lessons learned from Franken,” said Shaunna Thomas, a founder of UltraViolet, a women’s rights advocacy group. “You can’t reach a conclusion about what needs to happen ahead of the process or investigation.”

She added, “It’s a really unfair proposition if this is all left to the court of public opinion.”

The debate over the appropriate process for handling the accusations against Mr. Cuomo underscores larger questions for Democrats in the post-Trump era. After Democrats cast their support for equality in moral terms during the Trump administration, conservative news outlets have eagerly tagged the party with charges of hypocrisy for failing to uniformly demand an immediate resignation. That has revived worries from some Democrats that their party is imposing a politically damaging purity test.

Similar questions rocketed to the center of the presidential campaign last year, after President Biden, then a candidate, was accused of sexual assault by Tara Reade, a former aide. The allegations did not resonate among most Democratic voters, and the issue faded.

Politics, with its tribal loyalties, is a challenging environment to litigate such claims, which can involve a lot of gray area when it comes to delineating the severity of sexual misconduct. Political institutions generally lack independent mechanisms to fairly investigate claims in a way that protects both the accusers and the accused. And in the court of public opinion, not all accusations carry the same weight, despite the intense public scrutiny faced by those who come forward.

The anonymous nature of the most serious accusation against Mr. Cuomo — not an uncommon occurrence when dealing with traumatic sexual assault — makes it easier for some voters to dismiss the alleged behavior.

“With more allegations, it seems more clear that it would have been better for him if he resigned, and better for his accusers if there were an independent investigation rather than trial by media,” said Gloria Steinem, the country’s most famous feminist activist.

That isn’t how some Democratic voters understand the changing mores of this moment. Waiting for a bus in Harlem this week, Cheyse Murray was outraged by the suggestion that Mr. Cuomo should resign, saying he had been one of a few officials helping people through the worst part of the pandemic.

“Out of all the governors, he was the one keeping us safe from the illness, going on television,” said Ms. Murray. “Democrats just want to make an example of him because they couldn’t get Trump.”

A series of surveys conducted before the latest allegation emerged found that most voters did not want Mr. Cuomo to resign, even as his approval rating has plummeted and a majority of voters say he should not run for a fourth term.

Even some of Mr. Cuomo’s fiercest critics admit that his slide from liberal hero to politically imperiled leader has caused whiplash for some voters, who are struggling to keep up with the ballooning sense of controversy that has engulfed his administration as he confronts a series of federal and state investigations.

State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, a critic of Mr. Cuomo and a former aide, acknowledged that some voters were struggling to reconcile the image of the governor as an abusive leader with a man many turned to during one of the scariest periods of their lives.

“What’s hard for people to hold in their mind is a discordant belief that at the same time that this person made you feel safe, he was doing things and making decisions that were not only bad, but riddled with misconduct,” said Ms. Biaggi, who was one of the first to call for his resignation.

Mr. Cuomo has apologized for some of his behavior but has also made a play for time, asking people “to wait for the facts” to emerge from the investigation, which is being overseen by the state attorney general, Letitia James, and may take several months. His political support may not hold that long.

While dozens of state lawmakers and multiple members of the state’s congressional delegation have called for the governor’s resignation, the leaders of the Democratic Party — Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader — have not, saying they want to wait for the results of the investigation. Few Democrats from outside New York have commented on the matter, nor has Mr. Biden, though his press secretary, Jen Psaki, has repeatedly voiced support for the investigation — a sentiment echoed on Monday by Hillary Clinton.

Those who are calling for Mr. Cuomo’s resignation point to what they see as the hypocrisy of his behavior, arguing that some of his actions would violate a sweeping workplace harassment law that he signed in 2019. They also argue that the allegations against him fit into a larger pattern of abuse of power.

Susan Joseph, a Democrat and retired teacher from Rhinebeck, N.Y., said the accusations had changed her opinion of the governor, who she thought had a “rather obnoxious personality” but had deftly managed the early days of the pandemic. She now thinks he should resign.

“To use his power to rob young women of theirs was just unconscionable,” said Ms. Joseph, 71. “He has done good things for this state, but proven himself to be yet another privileged white male, and an old one at that, who thinks he is untouchable. I find his behavior despicable.”


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In Washington, Policy Revolves Around Joe Manchin. He Likes It That Way.





WASHINGTON — If Democrats eliminate the filibuster, there is one senator who would have an outsized impact in the 50-50 chamber on issues that could reshape the nation’s future: infrastructure, immigration, gun laws and voting rights. That senator is Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

There is also a senator whose opposition to eliminating the filibuster is a significant reason it may never happen. That senator, too, is Mr. Manchin.

“He should want to get rid of the filibuster because he suddenly becomes the most powerful person in this place — he’s the 50th vote on everything,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, sketching out the argument.

Mr. Manchin, however, does not see it that way. To the exasperation of Democrats, delight of Republicans and bewilderment of politicians who can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to wield more power, Mr. Manchin, a former governor of the state, isn’t budging.

“Sixty votes,” he said in an interview last week in his office, referring to the threshold required to advance most legislation, adding that he would not consider suspending the filibuster for certain bills, as some of his colleagues have floated: “You’re either committed or not.”

But with 18 people dead after two mass shootings within a week, a worsening migrant challenge on the border and Republicans trying to restrict voting in almost every state where they hold power, liberals believe this moment cries out for a different sort of commitment. At a time when they have full control of Congress and are confronting overlapping crises, many Democrats feel a moral and political imperative to act, process be damned.

That puts Mr. Manchin, 73, at the center of the most important policy debates in Washington — and has set the stage for a collision between a party eager to use its majorities to pass sweeping legislation and a political throwback determined to restore bipartisanship to a chamber that’s as polarized as the country.

Mr. Manchin believes that ending the legislative filibuster would effectively destroy the Senate. He recalled his predecessor, Robert C. Byrd, telling him that the chamber had been designed to force consensus.

Mr. Manchin has expressed willingness to support a “talking filibuster,” in which lawmakers have to actually hold the floor, perhaps for many hours, to block a vote. But he has not yielded on getting rid of it altogether and on an array of issues, including voting rights and gun control, his admonition is less about any particular policy end and more about making sure the legislation has support from both parties.

More broadly, Mr. Manchin’s resistance to ending the filibuster has ripened fundamental questions about which version of Congress would be more dysfunctional: a body stymied by gridlock or one that can pass legislation only by scrapping longstanding guidelines so it can push through party-line votes?

“You can’t make the place work if nothing significant is getting passed,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a leading progressive from California.

Mr. Manchin worries that the short-term benefit of ditching the filibuster would backfire for Democrats over the long term.

“I’m concerned about the House pushing an agenda that would be hard for us to maintain the majority,” Mr. Manchin said about the progressive legislation that House Democrats are stacking up at the Senate door. As for pressure from the left, he said, tauntingly: “What are they going to do, they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.”

To a growing number of his Democratic colleagues — and not just liberals — it’s naïve to keep putting hope over history, and believe, as Mr. Manchin said about gun legislation, that Republicans may say, “Listen, it’s time for us to do the reasonable, sensible thing.”

Of course, few in a Senate that depends on Mr. Manchin for a 50th vote will say outright that their colleague is indulging in fantasy.

“Joe’s focus, I believe, is bipartisanship, and I agree with the starting point,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, before lowering the boom: “They weren’t going to give us a single vote,” he said about the stimulus bill.

A former high school quarterback who friends say still relishes being at the center of the action, Mr. Manchin is something of a unicorn in today’s Congress. As a pro-coal and anti-abortion Democrat, he reflects a less-homogenized era when regionalism was as significant as partisanship and senators were more individual actors than predictable votes for their caucus.

Twice elected governor before claiming Mr. Byrd’s seat, he’s the only lawmaker standing in the way of an all-Republican congressional delegation in West Virginia, a state that former President Donald J. Trump carried by nearly 40 points last year. And he is an unlikely majority-maker of the Democratic Senate.

“We really are the big tent,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, before knowingly adding: “Now it’s a lot of work when you have a big tent, right? But that’s the way we have a majority.”

While out of step with his national party on some issues, and written off by parts of the left as little better than a Republican, his politics are more complex, even confounding, than they appear at first glance.

He provided the deciding vote on two of the biggest liberal priorities of this era — blocking repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 and on passage of the nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill this month — while also twice voting to convict an impeached president wildly popular in his home state.

And while he may admire Mr. Byrd’s dedication to Senate tradition, Mr. Manchin has not emulated his predecessor by leveraging his power to focus relentlessly on steering spending projects back to West Virginia.

When Mr. Manchin was holding out on a single amendment that was delaying passage of the stimulus bill, White House aides were perplexed because his price for supporting the measure was not additional money for his impoverished home state. His main request, West Wing officials said, was to pare back spending and consider Republican input that could have made the bill appear more moderate.

Mr. Manchin said President Biden warned him in a phone call that the progressive left in the House might balk if the bill were significantly trimmed. “I said, ‘Mr. President, all we’re trying to do is put some guard rails on this,’” he recalled.

He was less happy about Vice President Kamala Harris’s effort to nudge him on the legislation by making an appearance on a television affiliate in West Virginia to promote the bill without forewarning him. The clip went viral and, Mr. Manchin said, prompted cleanup conversations with Mr. Biden and the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain.

As for any pressure that he may feel on the filibuster, Mr. Manchin said he had reminded Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, of how essential he was to providing Democrats a majority.

He said he had told Mr. Schumer, “I know one thing, Chuck, you wouldn’t have this problem at all if I wasn’t here.”

He is not the only impediment to the sort of expansive liberal agenda preferred by many congressional Democrats or even the only one still defending the filibuster. Other Senate Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also share his reluctance.

Yet none are as eager as Mr. Manchin to restore a bygone day of collegiality. And perhaps, more to the point, none are as happy as him to talk about the need to do so as he navigates representing a once-heavily Democratic state that had been shifting to the G.O.P. even before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene.

He crossed the aisle last year to endorse his closest Republican ally, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and is already co-hosting bipartisan lunches with her. He is plotting the post-pandemic restoration of his pizza-and-beer parties on the boat he calls home while in Washington. (It’s called “Almost Heaven,” the opening lyric to John Denver’s ode to West Virginia.)

Although some of his colleagues relish the ideologically-charged prime-time cable news programs, Mr. Manchin prefers another Washington institution that also flourished in less-polarized times: the Sunday morning show.

In the fashion of many former governors who grow exasperated with Washington’s glacial pace, at times he can barely contain his impatience. He’s repeatedly mused about leaving the Senate and trying to reclaim his old job in Charleston.

But those who know Mr. Manchin well believe he likes the attention that he receives in the capital, the same as he did as a signal-caller in Farmington, W.V., where he grew up near Nick Saban, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama and a lifelong friend of Mr. Manchin.

“You’re in the hot seat when you’re a quarterback, but it’s pretty satisfying when you make progress,” said Nick Casey, a Manchin ally and former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. Mr. Casey said the senator, who sustained an injury that cut short his playing days, was “the greatest QB who never got to start at West Virginia University — just ask him.”

Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W.V., who served with Mr. Manchin in the state legislature, said: “This is the closest he has been to how he could be as governor, actually driving the agenda, pulling people together.’’

It’s the last part that most animates the senator. Happily bantering with reporters as he positions himself as a lonely, if well-covered, voice for comity, he shifts questions from policy to process.

“Why don’t you ask people when was the last time they took time to talk to some of the people on this side?” Mr. Manchin told a CNN reporter this week. “Try to convince them, or work with them. Have you had dinner with them? Have you had a lunch with them? Have you had a cup of coffee with them? Try something.”

A number of anti-filibuster Senate Democrats, though, are more focused on what Mr. Manchin’s support of the “talking filibuster” could portend.

“I think that gives us a lot of room for discussion,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, adopting a glass-is-half-full perspective.

What does seem clear is that Mr. Manchin is not going to switch parties.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, although we’d welcome him with open arms,” said Ms. Collins, who has tried in the past to persuade her friend to join Republicans.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr. Manchin remains in his forefathers’ party. A Catholic of Italian descent, he sought John F. Kennedy’s desk when he arrived in the Senate, displays a picture of the slain president in his office lobby and can recall hearing that Massachusetts accent in his kitchen when Kennedy’s brothers came to his parents’ house during the West Virginia primary in 1960.

“Joe reminds me a lot of the old conservative Democrats in Texas,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “They were born Democrats. They’re going to die Democrats.”

As for the filibuster, Mr. Coons, who was sworn in alongside Mr. Manchin in 2010, said liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Recalling a conversation with somebody who knows Mr. Manchin well, Mr. Coons said this person told him: “If the ghost of Robert Byrd came back to life and said the future of West Virginia itself is on the line he might … think about it.”


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C.D.C. Funding Gun Violence Research For First Time in Decades





That was the argument he used to help persuade Congress to appropriate money for gun violence research in 2019. The research itself was never banned outright, and in 2013, weeks after the massacre that killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Barack Obama directed the C.D.C. to reconsider funding studies on gun violence.

The agency commissioned a report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council outlining priorities, but little changed. By 2019, after Democrats reclaimed the House, liberal organizations like were petitioning Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment. Nearly every House Democrat signed on.

But Dr. Rosenberg argued it should remain intact, to “provide cover for Republicans and gun-loving Democrats who can put money into the science and tell their constituents, ‘This is not money for gun control.’ ”

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who chaired the House subcommittee that oversees the C.D.C.’s budget at the time, said she put $50 million into the appropriations bill that year, but the Senate, controlled by Republicans, eliminated it. The two chambers agreed on $25 million as a compromise, but she said she hoped to double the funding this year.

Dr. Naik-Mathuria, the Houston trauma surgeon, said she would like to see Washington address the problem of gun violence as a matter of injury prevention, not politics. She began researching methods to reduce gun violence about six years ago, she said, after seeing “kids come in dead because they shot themselves in the head when they found a gun at home.”

Her current study is aimed at determining risk factors for gun violence for children and adults, and her past work has led to some changes in medical practice, she said.

Pediatricians in Texas, she said, are hesitant to talk about gun safety out of concern that “it would anger parents or become political.” So she and her group made a broader safety video that tucked in messages about gun safety — like keeping guns locked and stored — with tips like how to keep children away from poison.


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Who Are Gavin Newsom’s Enemies?





There’s still time for a lot to change: If the organizers of the recall effort reach the signature threshold, the vote to recall Mr. Newsom and to choose his successor — both would be done on a single ballot — probably wouldn’t occur until near the end of the year.

That recall effort is being led by Orrin Heatlie, a conservative and a former sergeant in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, who as recently as last year shared anti-vaccination and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. views online. But the endeavor has the backing of a number of deep-pocketed political action committees, most of them right-leaning.

Randy Economy, a political consultant and talk-radio host, serves as the lead adviser to Recall Gavin Newsom, the group organizing the effort. He said the governor’s behavior and demeanor had made the recall necessary. “It’s because of Gavin Newsom himself, and the way he conducts himself every day since he’s become governor,” Mr. Economy said in an interview. “It’s all been more about his image and self-aggrandizing, as opposed to fixing the problems.”

Mr. Newsom’s approval rating isn’t nearly as low as Gov. Gray Davis’s was in 2003, when voters ousted him in a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger, running as a moderate Republican, was the beneficiary of that effort, winning the recall election and going on to serve as governor for more than seven years.

California politics are different — and decidedly more Democratic — than they were 18 years ago. Democrats now have a 2-to-1 advantage in terms of voter registration across the state. Just because there is a Republican-led effort does not mean that a Republican will be the one to ultimately benefit. Mr. Economy, who volunteered in 2016 for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign but has also worked for Democrats in the past, insisted that his team’s goal was not partisan in nature.

“Our job is not to pick the next governor; our job is to make sure that this governor’s recalled and removed from office,” he said.

The state is light on prominent (let alone popular) G.O.P. politicians, and some ambitious Democrats already appear ready to run through the open door. All of which points to a possible irony: Even if it were to become only the second successful recall effort in California history, the push — led by conservative interests — could ultimately lift up another Democrat, possibly one to the left of Mr. Newsom.


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