WASHINGTON – Kirsten Gillibrand was the first Democratic senator to call for her colleague Al Franken's resignation in 2017 as he faced allegations of sexual misconduct, building a profile as a leading advocate for women that became the centerpiece of her 2020 presidential bid.
But the New York senator is taking a different approach when it comes to sexual harassment allegations hitting closer to home, those against her state's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.
In a series of statements, Gillibrand has said accusations of offensive behavior by Cuomo are “serious and deeply concerning” and that the three women “who have come forward have shown tremendous courage.” She has said that the claims against Cuomo are "completely unacceptable” and called for a full investigation — but stopped short of demanding his resignation.
Top Democrats in New York and nationally have similarly refrained from suggesting that Cuomo step down. That includes New York's senior senator and the chamber's majority leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer. It's a far more cautious approach than the parade of Democratic senators who followed Gillibrand's lead in calling for Franken's resignation.
That's fueling questions about whether, more than three years into the #MeToo movement, the push to hold powerful men accountable for sexual harassment and abuse is losing steam. Gillibrand paid a political price for her role in the Franken resignation and her tone toward Cuomo may reflect that.
“Our country needs to do better for women writ large," said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of Women’s March, an advocacy group that grew out of the January 2017 demonstration when tens of thousands of women, most clad in pink, descended on Washington to protest Donald Trump's presidency. "Both parties and at every level of government.”
Franken ultimately resigned, but Democrats later questioned whether they had moved too quickly to oust him. During her presidential campaign, Gillibrand faced questions about her decision and insisted she didn't regret calling for Franken to give up his Senate seat. But she acknowledged that doing so hurt her with top donors and may have hampered her effort to win a following in the leadoff caucuses in Iowa, which borders Franken's state of Minnesota.
Pete Buttigieg, who essentially tied for first place in Iowa, has said that when it came to Franken, he would “not have applied that pressure at that time before we knew more.” The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is now President Joe Biden's transportation secretary.