Why sexual harassment discussions include lawmakers talking about Bill Clinton’s past

Renewed controversy over sexual harassment in politics has forced Democrats to reflect on how the party handled previous accusations of sexual misconduct against former President Clinton.

President Trump's opponents have renewed calls amid the nationwide discussion for action on past accusations against the president.

ADVERTISEMENT

But the controversy has also forced introspection by some within the Democratic Party, who are calling for reform and looking back at their own past on the issue.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who led the charge on combatting sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill, said Sunday that women who made sexual misconduct allegations against Clinton were not treated fairly. 

“They should have been believed, because, as I pointed out, most people who come forward are telling the truth,” Speier told CBS’s “Face the Nation."

The Sunday comments come as a slew of women across the country, from Hollywood to Capitol Hill, have come forward to accuse various high-profile men of sexual misconduct, igniting a national conversation on the issue. 

The White House has argued that Trump already addressed accusations against him by denying them during the campaign. Trump did not hesitate to criticize Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenGOP lawmaker once belittled sexual harassment: 'How traumatizing was it?' Meet the man poised to battle Dems from the White House Minnesota GOP Senate candidate compared Michelle Obama to a chimp in Facebook post MORE (D-Minn.) after allegations surfaced against him, but has held his fire against GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.

“For every Republican who has behaved badly, there's a Democrat who has behaved badly,” former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina acknowledged Sunday on ABC.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAffordable housing set for spotlight of next presidential campaign Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Pentagon watchdog knocks top admiral for handling of sexual harassment case MORE (D-N.Y.) made headlines last week when she said during an interview with The New York Times that Clinton should have resigned following allegations that he carried on an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky while he was president. 

“I think that is the appropriate response,” Gillibrand told the publication. 

“I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction,” she continued. “And I think in light of this conversation, we should have a very different conversation about President Trump, and a very different conversation about allegations against him.”

But Neera Tanden, who served as a policy director for both Clinton and former President Obama and now serves as president of the liberal Center for American Progress, argued on Sunday that Clinton "faced a lot more punishment than the current president" following sexual harassment claims.

Speier and others who served in the Clinton administration, such as former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, similarly said that Clinton's impeachment represents serious consequences for his actions.

"If you're going to look at people ... we can look 20 years ago at a former president [or] we can look in the last decade at a current president," Tanden argued on CNN.

Clinton became the second president in U.S. history to be impeached in 1998. He was impeached in the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The House passed the first article of impeachment, which accused Clinton of misleading a federal grand jury about his relationship with Lewinsky. The second article, which narrowly passed the House, accused Clinton of getting others to lie about his affair with Lewinsky. Clinton was acquitted in the Senate.

Clinton also faced other accusations of non-consensual sexual conduct, but was not charged. 

Trump repeatedly brought the issue up during the campaign, going so far as bringing a number of the former president's accusers to a debate against then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Gabbard considering 2020 run: report Claiming 'spousal privilege' to stonewall Congress MORE. And his defenders will still mine the issue in attempts to discredit any future political plans for Hillary Clinton.

Former White House strategist Stephen Bannon said in a Sunday radio interview that Gillibrand's comment was "a shot right across the bow of the Clintons."

Hillary Clinton, responding to Gillibrand's comments, said the Lewinsky scandal was a "painful time" for her marriage and the country. 

"I don't exactly know what she was trying to say," Clinton said during an interview with WABC on Friday.

"It was investigated fully. It was addressed at the time. He was held accountable. That is very different than what people seem to be remembering from that period, because you can go back and look at the history," she continued.  

Others urge the party to look forward rather than back.

"I don't think at this moment our goal is to look back 20 years or 30 years," Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders: Trump setting 'terrible example' for our children Gabbard considering 2020 run: report Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE (I-Vt.) said Sunday on CNN. "Our goal is to go forward. And our goal is to understand that we have a real crisis in this country today within the political world, within the corporate world, within the media world, where women are being harassed every single day, and our job is to change that culture."