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Friday Talking Points [462] -- Speaking Out Causes A Sea-Change In Attitudes

[ Posted Friday, November 17th, 2017 – 18:24 PST ]

America is in the midst of a gigantic sea-change on how accusations of sexual misconduct are viewed. That much seems certain. You could say it began with the Access Hollywood tape during Donald Trump's campaign, or you could argue it began with the end of Harvey Weinstein's Hollywood career. Notably, the "Me Too" movement has actually been around for a decade, but it really caught fire this year in a big way. But no matter the origins of the shift, America now views accusations of sexual misconduct in a much different light than before.

Politically, there have always been such scandals. Last week, in fact, Anthony Weiner started a prison term for "sexting" an underage girl -- which was the third such sex scandal he had been embroiled in (the other two ended his congressional career and torpedoed his "comeback" run for New York City mayor, but did not result in criminal charges). But the Weiner story is now old news, so it was barely reported -- a reminder that these scandals didn't just start happening now.

Republicans now have some false equivalence to point to, after a brutal few weeks of being forced to comment on Roy Moore's sexual history with underage girls. The new Al Franken scandal gave them a Democrat to point to in defense of the indefensible. One commenter to a Washington Post article mocked this new Republican strategy: "So, a person going 70 down a 60 mile an hour freeway is just as bad as the guy doing 70 through a school zone? Don't be ridiculous." Nice use of "school zone" in that imagery, we have to say.

Franken is accused of creating a fratboy-style photo-op (as a sight gag), in which he appears to be groping a sleeping woman's chest. Franken's defenders point out that his hands are merely hovering over her breasts, not actually touching them, and that she was wearing a Kevlar vest anyway. He was also accused of being overly aggressive in practicing a kiss with the woman backstage at a U.S.O. show, but again his defenders point out that she had agreed to the practice kiss, so even this wasn't technically "non-consensual."

Meanwhile, more accusers of Roy Moore went public this week, including this charming story from Gena Richardson, a high-school senior who worked at Sears at the local mall. Moore introduced himself to her while she was at work and pressed her to give him her phone number. She refused. Here's what she said happened next (note: this was LONG before cell phones existed, so not having someone's phone number severely limited the ways you could contact them):

A few days later, she says, she was in trigonometry class at Gadsden High when she was summoned to the principal's office over the intercom in her classroom. She had a phone call.

"I said 'Hello?'" Richardson recalls. "And the male on the other line said, 'Gena, this is Roy Moore.' I was like, 'What?!' He said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I’m in trig class.'"

Richardson says Moore asked her out again on the call. A few days later, after he asked her out at Sears, she relented and agreed, feeling both nervous and flattered. They met that night at a movie theater in the mall after she got off work, a date that ended with Moore driving her to her car in a dark parking lot behind Sears and giving her what she called an unwanted, "forceful" kiss that left her scared.

This was either the eighth or ninth woman (we've lost count) making very similar accusations against Moore. Reports also surfaced that it was pretty much an open secret in Gadsden that Moore at one point got himself banned from the mall for his creepy behavior around underage girls. This prompted Lindsey Graham to respond: "I've got a general rule. If you can't be in a mall, you shouldn't be in the Senate."

Now, virtually all Democrats immediately called for Franken to face the Senate's Ethics Committee to fully investigate the charge against him. Many Republicans have, like Graham, denounced Moore -- although there are a significant number still clinging to the "if true" dodge ("if true, he should quit the race"). Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this week, while under oath: "I have no reason to doubt these young women." Ivanka Trump told the Associated Press: "There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I've yet to see a valid explanation and I have no reason to doubt the victims' accounts." Her father, on the other hand, has been silent during the escalation of the Moore scandal (with the exception of ripping into Franken on Twitter).

Democrats, even before the Franken news broke, were already doing some serious soul-searching over their reaction to the sex scandals of Bill Clinton. While the Monica Lewinsky scandal was the most prominent, Clinton was also accused of serious sexual aggression during his 1992 campaign -- when his defenders did all they could to discredit the women accusing him. That doesn't really fit in with the new "always believe the women" standard of today, to put it mildly. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand -- who took over a Senate seat from Hillary Clinton, and has long been supported by the Clintons -- said this week that Bill should have resigned during the Lewinsky scandal. Few other Democrats have gone that far, and fewer still have addressed the campaign scandals (instead of just the Lewinsky scandal). But the subject is at least under discussion in Democratic circles.

But so far, Republicans have avoided doing their own soul-searching -- not over a president first elected 25 years ago, but over last year's presidential campaign. An article making the case that Democrats' reactions are in no way the same as those of Republicans points this out, in detail:

Were there any prominent Republicans who demanded an investigation into how often [Donald] Trump had committed sexual assaults, as he bragged he could do with impunity? I don't think there were. And then what happened when one woman after another went public -- at great personal risk and without anything to gain -- to say that yes, he had done to them just what he said he could do? About those allegations, we heard almost nothing from important Republicans. They essentially pretended those women didn't exist.

But they did exist. And there were not one or two or five, but over a dozen of them. Here are the names of women who say that Trump kissed or groped them against their will: Kristin Anderson, Rachel Crooks, Jessica Drake, Jill Harth, Cathy Heller, Ninni Laaksonen, Jessica Leeds, Mindy McGillivray, Jennifer Murphy, Cassandra Searles, Natasha Stoynoff, Temple Taggart, Karena Virginia, and Summer Zervos. That doesn't include the contestants at pageants -- including teenage girls at the Miss Teen USA pageant -- who related how Trump burst into their dressing rooms to watch them change clothes, behavior he also bragged about. The official White House position is that every one of those women is a liar. How many Republicans have stood up for them?

Democrats have a long way to go in figuring out how they should understand their own history and how to handle these allegations in the future, not to mention how to change a culture where sexual harassment and abuse has been taken for granted for so long. But at least they're starting to try -- which is a lot more than you can say for Republicans.

This is an excellent point, and one the news-reporting side of the media has been all but ignoring. Bill Clinton's situation has been hashed over multiple times this week, but how many reporters have taken the time to go back and re-interview Trump's accusers? Because with the sea-change in public attitudes, they're going to be seen in a very different light now. But so far, this hasn't noticeably happened -- even after Trump played the "holier than thou" card against Al Franken. Many repeat Trump's infamous "grab 'em by the pussy" line from the leaked Access Hollywood tape, but few have bothered to give voice to those asserting that Trump actually grabbed them or worse. This should really be the next act in the growing political/sexual scandal, but so far Trump seems to have avoided any close examination of his own accusers.

Trump is, by all accounts, scared of inserting himself into the Roy Moore situation, for a number of reasons. First, he knows that the minute he does, questions over his own behavior will become unavoidable. Second, he has already attempted to intervene in this race (during the primaries) and he backed the losing candidate. If he backs yet another loser, how's that going to look? At his 300th day in office, Trump's own job approval rating is far more dismal (Gallup: 37 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove) than any president at a similar juncture since public opinion polling began.

Speaking of polls, they certainly aren't getting any better for Roy Moore. The once-unthinkable is now a very distinct possibility: Alabama voters might just send Democrat Doug Jones to the Senate rather than a Republican. As the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled all its funding out of Moore's race (following similar action from the Republican National Committee), they leaked an internal poll showing Moore was trailing Jones by a whopping 12 points. Independent pollsters didn't show that big a gap, but the trendline is clear. Of two recent polls, one put Jones up by five points, and one put him up by eight. That last one was from Fox News, which really makes accusations of partisan skewing impossible. The most interesting number from the Fox News poll breakdown was that Jones leads Moore among Alabama's women by an astounding 26 points -- 58 to 32 percent. Could Alabama women be the key to electing Jones? It certainly seems like it, at this point.

Let's see... what else has been going on? Richard Cordray abruptly resigned from leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and there is speculation he is positioning himself to run for the governor of Ohio.

A Department of Homeland Security official appointed by Trump was forced to resign this week, when comments were uncovered about what he truly thinks about African-Americans: "it's an indictment of America's black community that has turned America's major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity." We're actually surprised that Trump didn't give him a medal, or something.

The House passed their version of their tax bill. Thirteen Republicans crossed the aisle and voted against it. Zero Democrats voted for it.

Days before the Keystone XL pipeline company was to hear whether Nebraska had approved a construction permit, the sister Keystone pipeline spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. Instant karma's gonna getcha, we suppose.

Iraq has now officially eradicated the Islamic State from all territory it once held, with the capture of the final towns and villages close to the Syrian border. At one point, the Islamic State controlled roughly one-third of all Iraq, so this is a real milestone. The Islamic State is also almost out of territory in Syria, as well.

And finally, we have to end with some humor. The first funny line came from Marco Rubio, responding to a video of Donald Trump awkwardly drinking from a water bottle when he was supposed to be speaking at a podium. It's a cringeworthy piece of video, and Rubio couldn't resist comparing unfavorably to his own water bottle gaffe, by offering Trump some advice on Twitter: "Similar, but needs work on his form. Has to be done in one single motion & eyes should never leave the camera. But not bad for his 1st time."

But the funniest thing we saw all week was a snarky list of what the future Senate might look like, with everything that is going on right now. This is the ultimate quiz of in-jokes, really. Some of the items on the list are pretty easy to decipher, such as: "Enormous Pile of Coal Formed Into a Crude Facsimile of a Man (R-W.Va.)", "Unrepentant Groping Hand Protruding From a Big Stack of Bibles (R-Ala.)", and (speaking of Rubio): "Little Boy in A Sailor Suit Holding An Oversized Lollipop (R-Fla.)". Some are a lot snarkier: "Scorpion Asking for a Ride Across a River (R-S.C.)", and: "What Remains of Mitt Romney's Soul After That Dinner With Trump (R-Utah)." Some, though, were just plain odd: "Alien Bursting out of a Human Stomach With a Hideous Shriek (R-N.M.)", and "Thing That Appears in Your Mirror If You Light a Candle and Speak Unholy Words (R-Tenn.)". We have to admit we only got something like half of the jokes, but the entire thing is downright hilarious to read!

 

Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

While the sexual accusations got most of the attention, Congress was actually holding hearings on the same subject -- in particular, how Congress itself has a serious problem.

Testimony about sexual harassment (and worse) was heard this week, which might have merely led to mandatory sexual harassment training for everyone, but two Democratic women pointed out that this isn't nearly a good enough solution.

Representative Jackie Speier and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand unveiled the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act (or the "ME TOO Congress Act") this week. This bill would radically change how sexual harassment charges are dealt with on Capitol Hill.

The current system is shockingly inadequate. Victims are required to attend mandatory counseling (although the accused person is not), they are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements so their charges will never become public, and even if they are awarded settlements, the money -- over $15 million total for the past decade or so -- comes from American taxpayers.

That is, in a word, pathetic. The ME TOO Congress Act would change all of that, and institute some modern policies instead. No longer would complaints be treated so cavalierly. No longer would accusers be prohibited from telling their stories in public. Everyone who works on Capitol Hill (including interns and pages) would be covered, rather than just paid officeworkers. And, most importantly, no longer would settlements be secret -- the names would be publicly shown, and the guilty party would have to pay the money out of his or her own pockets, rather than sticking the taxpayers with the bill for their misconduct.

These are entirely reasonable changes to demand, at this point in time. This is a proactive effort to improve working conditions in Congress, and it really should be impossible for any politician from either party to oppose such modernization of their own workplace's rules.

For taking the lead on the issue, and for introducing legislation to change things for the better, our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Representative Jackie Speier and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Every Democrat should immediately sign on as co-sponsors to the ME TOO Congress Act, in fact.

[Congratulate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on her Senate contact page and Representative Jackie Speier on her House contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Before we get to this week, we have some old business to address. It kind of got lost in all the other political scandal news, but this week New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez beat the rap against him. His corruption trial ended in a hung jury, with 10 jurors convinced of his innocence and 2 finding him guilty. While this is not a full exoneration (he could be tried again), we have to make good on a promise we made back when he was indicted. In FTP [338], we awarded Menendez the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week with a caveat: "If the case falls apart and Menendez is vindicated, we will issue a formal apology and retraction." Now, he wasn't completely vindicated, but the case obviously fell apart, so we are going to rescind the MDDOTW awards we had previously given Menendez back then, as well as the two we gave him (for the same court case) in FTP [340] and FTP [452]. We won't go so far as to apologize (since he could still be tried and convicted), but we are wiping these MDDOTW awards off his record, as promised.

But back to the present. It wasn't exactly a tough choice this time around. This week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes to Senator Al Franken. Franken disappointed millions of Democrats this week, not so much for his actions as for the incredibly bad timing of the accusation. Democrats had worked themselves into high dudgeon over Roy Moore, and were piously taking the moral high road right up to the point when Franken's accusation threw a serious curveball into the mix.

Sure, you can argue about the false equivalency between the accusations against Franken and those made against Roy Moore (because they simply aren't the same, no matter how Republicans try to frame it that way), but without Franken to take shots at they would have been restricted to complaining about Democrats and Bill Clinton -- a valid issue, perhaps, but one long in the past.

Franken's situation blunts the charges Democrats have been making, at the very least. In fact, the only way for Franken to totally defuse the situation would be to step down immediately -- a punishment that many feel does not fit the crime. But if Franken does so, his state's Democratic governor would appoint another Democrat, meaning the balance of power in the Senate would remain the same. If Moore loses his race, however, Democrats will pick up a seat -- one they never thought they'd actually win.

We are stopping short of calling on Franken to step down, personally. It might be the best thing politically for the Democratic Party for Franken to fall on his own sword, but it still seems to us to be too drastic a measure to demand.

Still, Al Franken has disappointed us, and we are certainly not alone in such feelings. So, rather obviously, this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is none other than Senator Al Franken.

[Contact Senator Al Franken on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 462 (11/17/17)

No matter what else is going on in Washington to distract everyone, there is still a full-court press by Republicans to shower enormous tax breaks on Wall Street and millionaires going on in the background. The House passed its version of this "take from Main Street to lavish tax breaks on Wall Street" plan this week, and the public barely noticed. So we're once again devoting almost all the talking points to Democratic reasons why this is such an enormously bad idea.

So far, the GOP tax plan is unpopular with the public. Not as unpopular as their "repeal and replace Obamacare" bills were, but almost. There is no public pressure to pass this tax bill, except for the mounting pressure from Republican donors who control the puppet strings of GOP congresscritters.

The more people hear about this plan, the worse they like it. This means that it should be job one for Democrats right now to put all these details in front of the public.

Our first talking point is a Republican warning the Trump administration on the Russia probe, and our last one is just a bit of humor (again, from a Republican), but all the others deal with the tax bill, because in the midst of all the swirling ongoing scandals, this is truly what is important in Washington right now.

 

1
   Lies! All lies!

Michael Gerson, who used to work in George W. Bush's White House, is not mincing words over the state of the Russia investigation. While subpoenas were quietly announced for a dozen people from the Trump campaign this week, Gerson was responding to all the rest of it, before the subpoena news even broke. And his overview is pretty damning. Remember, this is a Republican saying this:

In all of this, there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the F.B.I. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing. What are the implications? President Trump and others in his administration are about to be hit by a legal tidal wave. We look at the Russia scandal and see lies. A skilled prosecutor sees leverage.

 

2
   The truth hurts, Orrin

Senator Sherrod Brown won the award for getting under Republicans' skin this week on the tax bill, as he and Orrin Hatch almost got in a shouting match over the reality of what the bill will (and will not) do. Brown had the truth on his side, leaving Hatch to sputter about his (direct quote) "whole stinkin' career" trying to help little people (pause for laughter) while Democrats hurl (direct quote) "bullcrap" at him. Here's what Brown had to say that got Hatch so visibly annoyed:

I think it would be nice, just tonight, before we go home, to just acknowledge, well this tax cut really is not for the middle class, it's for the rich. And that whole thing about higher wages, well it's a good selling point. But we know that companies don't just give away higher wages. They don't give away higher wages because they have more money. Corporations are sitting on a lot of money. Corporations are sitting on a lot of money right now. They're sitting on a lot of profits now. I don't see wages going up. So spare us the bank shots. Spare us the sarcasm and the satire.

 

3
   Clueless

Hatch wasn't the only Republican astonished at the reactions their tax giveaway to Wall Street is provoking.

"Gary Cohn, a White House economic policy advisor, spoke this week to a bunch of corporate CEOs which was hosted by none other than the Wall Street Journal. Cohn decided it would be a good idea to informally poll the room on the question of how many of the CEOs would be taking the windfall of money the GOP tax bill will shower upon their companies to increase investment. The thing is, though, almost no hands went up. The CEOs know full well they'll be taking the extra money and essentially handing it to the shareholders rather than investing in expansion or -- heaven forbid! -- raising workers' wages. Cohn wins the clueless quote of the week for his response to the dearth of hands in the air, plaintively asking: 'Why aren't the other hands up?' Well, Gary, allow me to explain it to you: the other hands weren't up because you have been trying to sell the American people on a big fat lie. The CEOs were just being honest -- it is you who are truly clueless about how big business works."

 

4
   Reverse Robin Hood

An oldie but a goodie, and never more appropriate than right now.

"According to Congress' own nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, the GOP tax bill would raise taxes on millions of families earning from $10,000 to $75,000. It would even hike taxes on people making between $10,000 and $30,000 -- those least able to afford it. This will affect tens of millions of taxpayers. So the heart of the Republican plan is to raise taxes on the little guys in order to shower benefits on those at the absolute top of the income scale. If anyone has any doubts how financial inequality happens in America, they need look no farther than this odious bill. It is Robin Hood in reverse, taking from the poor to give to the rich. Republicans ought to be ashamed, but of course they aren't."

 

5
   Middle class pain

Point out exactly what the middle class is going to lose.

"Republicans think it is somehow wrong for middle-class households to get deductions for things like medical expenses, state and local taxes, mortgage interest, student loan interest, and graduate school scholarships. The Joint Committee on Taxation reports that this bill will make college a whopping $71 billion more expensive for American students over the next decade. No wonder the public hates this bill so much. Even with all the misdirection and lies Republicans have been deploying, most people have figured out what a giant con job the bill is. Republicans only raise the tax rate on one tax bracket in their plans -- the lowest tax bracket, for those who make the least. They lower the tax rate for those at the top end of the scale, though. This bill is a massive scam intended to transfer money from the middle class to the ultra-wealthy, which is why Democrats oppose it."

 

6
   Permanent versus temporary

The Senate bill had to perform some smoke and mirrors to get the price down, but how they did so is pretty notable.

"Republicans will tell you that they are 'closing loopholes' that 'special interests' have been abusing. But you know what? I haven't yet heard one single business loophole they will be closing. Businesses will be paying almost half the rate they are now, so they're going to get all the goodies. To pay for it, deductions on individuals will be eliminated. These are not 'special interest loopholes,' they are deductions for enormous medical bills and student loans. But the worst part is that all the business tax breaks will be permanent, while the crumbs the GOP has tossed to everyone else will be temporary and expire. That means eventually everyone will pay higher taxes, while the businesses pay lower taxes for eternity. And Republicans think that's a fair tradeoff."

 

7
   Cruella De Ville strikes again

Finally, an amusing note to end on. Steve Mnuchin and his tone-deaf wife were photographed holding up a sheet of dollar bills at the U.S. Mint this week. The wife was sporting leather gloves which cost $600, and both look like poster children for the entitled class. This led to much ribald derision online, of course. None other than conservative Bill Kristol commented on the timing of the photo, where he also issued a challenge to all Democrats to come up with an appropriate photo caption. (The best we've heard yet: "After this photo was taken, she went back to torturing 101 Dalmatians.") But we're sure you've got your own ideas, which we'd love to hear in the comments. Here's the original text of Kristol's challenge:

Maybe not the best photo on the eve of vote on a tax bill that's being attacked for favoring the wealthy? If the Democrats were a competent political party, this photo would be in ads in every GOP swing district tomorrow, with a competition for best caption to get voters engaged.

-- Chris Weigant

 

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground
Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post