For some on the left, the person who bears much responsibility for former Democratic senator Al Franken losing his seat because of his alleged mistreatment of women is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a possible 2020 presidential hopeful.
But blaming a woman for a man losing his job over reports of workplace sexual misconduct is a reminder that some on both sides of the aisle fail to respond appropriately to such allegations.
After a number of women alleged that Franken touched them inappropriately, Gillibrand was the first senator to call on her fellow Democrat to leave Congress. Franken (Minn.) resigned in January
Before he was a senator, Franken was famous as a comedian and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member. His stock was particularly high among Democrats for buzzy public moments in which he took President Trump's policies and nominees to task. Like Gillibrand, though to a lesser degree, there was speculation that Franken had potential in the 2020 Democratic primary.
According to billionaire George Soros, Gillibrand's ambition was the impetus of her efforts to get Franken to leave Capitol Hill, The Washington Post's Michael Kranish reported this weekend:
Soros, who said he wants to avoid dividing the party, also refused to pick favorites among the emerging crop of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders. But there is one prospective candidate he said he hopes does not get the nod: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
He blames Gillibrand for pushing the resignation of former senator Al Franken “whom I admire,” Soros said, “in order to improve her chances.”
Soros is not the first to hold Gillibrand responsible for Franken's career downfall, but he is one of the most high profile liberal donors to do so.
Apparently Soros thinks Gillibrand was motivated by the opportunity to score political points, not outrage over Franken's behavior.
Many accused Soros of sexism.
While Soros's statement may have been the most candid and public slight at Gillibrand, anger with her continues to bubble on the left.
The Post reported in January that Susie Tompkins Buell, a multimillion-dollar donor to Democratic Party candidates and campaigns, was “reconsidering her support for the women in the U.S. Senate who called for Al Franken’s resignation.”
Bell went on to target Gillibrand specifically. She told the Times:
“As for Gillibrand, unfortunately, I believe she miscalculated and has shot herself in the foot. I have supported her for many years. Will I going forward? To be determined.”
Many Democrats are frustrated that one of their own held a popular Democrat to a standard that Republicans don't impose on Trump, who is facing about a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct.
Liberal columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote in the New York Times that “Democrats, by and large, want their politicians held accountable. Republicans, by contrast, just want Democratic politicians held accountable.”
Polling shows that the majority of the American public recognizes the seriousness of the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, but Republicans are less likely to do so. While more than 9 in 10 Democrats said they think the sexual harassment of women in the workplace is a problem, according to a January 2018 Washington Post-ABC poll, 74 percent of Republicans said the same thing.
Conservative lawmakers long ago abandoned calling Trump to account over his alleged misconduct with women. Some who did in the initial aftermath of the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, like Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.), are still suffering backlash from their base. Approval for Trump remains high among Republicans — 87 percent, according to Gallup.
Others have suggested that the relative silence about Trump from the right is rooted in the awareness that if Republicans offer reminders about it, they could lose the White House and their own seats if Trump supporters turn on them.
This issue seems to be one more on which Democrats are struggling to come up with a cohesive message: Do they go high or low? Appeal to the base on the left or make a play for moderates? A lingering debate over the consequences of misconduct seems like a recipe for poisonous internal strife within the Democratic coalition.
If Soros and like-minded donors punish Gillibrand and the other aspiring female lawmakers who wanted to see Franken and other men in Congress removed because of their alleged behavior, it could remind voters that misconduct lingers on the left as well as the right.