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Democrats worry: Were we too slow on sex assault response?

Alex Roarty and Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

Calls for Franken's resignation came a day after Rep. John Conyers of Michigan announced his immediate retirement from Congress, and a week after BuzzFeed published an account from a former campaign staffer of Rep. Ruben Kihuen, accusing the congressman from Nevada of repeated unwanted sexual advances.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, both called for Kihuen's resignation.

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who was the only member of the Judiciary Committee to call for Conyers to step down, said the process has been difficult but "we're all getting on the same page."

"We have to be very clear about what the limits are, we can't start parsing," she said, warning that failing to do so "takes away our moral authority to be able to call on Roy Moore to step aside or Donald Trump for that matter. We can't pick and choose."

Democratic leaders such as Pelosi were sharply criticized in recent weeks for their response to the Conyers allegations. The veteran congressional leader appeared to defend her longtime colleague on "Meet the Press" last month, calling him an "icon" and questioning why his accusers were, at that time, anonymous.

Coupled with Senate Democrats' refusal to call for Franken's departure, Pelosi's comments fueled concern among many Democrats that they could no longer claim to be the defender of women's equality. Democratic candidates rely heavily on votes from women, and many of the party's rising stars -- including possible future presidential candidates -- are women.

Not calling for their own members to resign "muddies the waters between right and wrong," said Rebecca Katz, a progressive strategist.

"When there's an opportunity to speak with authority and say clearly what Democrats stand for -- which is not sex harassment, which is not groping -- we need to say it," she said. "We can't tolerate it."

 

The GOP has faced intense criticism this week after GOP officials, led by Trump, once again threw their support to Moore. The RNC had stopped funding Moore after reports that the former state Supreme Court judge, while in his early 30s, had regularly dated girls younger than 18.

Politico also reported this week that Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas settled a sexual harassment complaint with a former staffer. And multiple women have accused Trump of sexual assault.

"There are people who are frustrated that Democrats are calling out those on our side but Republicans are not doing the same," Jayapal said. "Blake Farenthold is still here and they don't see that happening on the other side. But sexual harassment is not something you wait for the other side to do the right thing, you have to do the right thing first."

(c)2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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