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Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations
At least some Democratic congresswomen see a double standard at play in the accusations that 2020 presidential contender Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is hard on her staff.
"Women are not usually applauded for being tough. And then when you are," said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), trailing off. "But you know what, she's a big girl. She'll handle it. She'll do fine."
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) pointed to President Trump's treatment of his staff and the high turnover in the White House. A Brookings Institution analysis found a 65 percent turnover rate among Trump's senior-ranking advisers as of January.
"But somehow it's an issue for Ms. Klobuchar," Speier said.
A flurry of reports last weekend portrayed Klobuchar as a demanding boss who had difficulty recruiting staff for her presidential run due to her reputation.
The reports coincided with Klobuchar's notable 2020 campaign launch, which began on a snow-covered stage in Minneapolis where temperatures had dipped to a freezing 14 degrees.
Those reports alleged that Klobuchar engaged in behavior ranging from routinely dismissing staffers' work as "the worst" to accidentally hitting an aide after throwing a binder and calling departing staffers' new employers to get their job offers rescinded.
Klobuchar acknowledged in a Fox News interview with Bret Baier this past week that she "can be a tough boss and push people, that's obvious."
"But that's because I have high expectations of myself, I have high expectations of those that work with me and I have high expectations for our country."
Some Klobuchar staffers who spoke to outlets reporting on the allegations questioned whether former co-workers who considered her behavior abusive were invoking sexist stereotypes about female leaders.
Others were among the sources speaking to various news outlets about Klobuchar's behavior, and they argued sexism was not the issue.
"I knew her reputation going in, and I rationalized it, because I thought that was what was going on - I thought people were saying that because she was a woman," one former staffer told BuzzFeed News. "I regret that now."
An analysis conducted by LegiStorm, which maintains a database of congressional salaries, found that Klobuchar's office has had one of the highest turnover rates in the Senate since she joined the upper chamber in 2007. She currently ranks third in turnover behind Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and John Kennedy (R-La.).
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) said abrasive behavior can backfire more harshly for women in power than men in similar positions.
"I think we're judged by a different standard. So what can seem tough in a man, the adjectives used for men, are not always so kind when they're used for women," she said.
Asked if the reports about Klobuchar would justify an investigation, Rosen said: "Sen. Klobuchar's going to have to talk with her staff and talk to people about it. I'm not sure that it requires an investigation."
Some male lawmakers in recent years have come under scrutiny for accusations of mistreating staff, including ex-Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Tom Garrett (R-Va.).
And long before he became embroiled in sexting scandals, ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was known for his reputation of being a particularly demanding, short-tempered boss. The New York Times documented his treatment of staff in 2008, three years before his 2011 resignation, with the headline: "Congressman Pushes Staff Hard, or Out the Door."
Murphy, an anti-abortion Republican, resigned from Congress in 2017 following the revelation that he allegedly encouraged a woman with whom he was having an affair to terminate a pregnancy. But he had also been dogged by allegations that he oversaw a hostile work environment with high staff turnover.
Former aides to Rokita, who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2018, told The Associated Press that he was a micromanager known to yell at his staff. He also allegedly docked at least two congressional staffers' pay for seemingly minor mistakes.
Garrett and his wife were reported to have "explosive tempers" and made his staff run personal errands outside their congressional duties, according to former staffers' accounts to Politico.
And Farenthold's staff accused him of being a verbally abusive boss who often made crude sexual jokes, according to a 2017 CNN report. Farenthold later resigned from Congress amid a House Ethics Committee investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.
While plenty of male lawmakers have faced criticism for mistreating staff, some think Klobuchar faces different assumptions because of her gender.
"Stories about intimidating male bosses are typically not presented as disqualifying, but as evidence of these men as formidable leaders. These are men who should not be underestimated. These are men who should be respected," Jennifer Palmieri, who worked as communications director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and under President Obama, wrote in a Politico op-ed.
A woman, Palmieri wrote, "would not be admired for the hard-charging zeal she brought to the job. She would be seen as unhinged."
A bigger problem for Klobuchar may be that the stories about her mistreating staff conflict with her "Minnesota nice" public persona: a pragmatist able to work across the aisle who holds widespread popularity across her state and even titled her 2015 memoir "The Senator Next Door."
But that "Minnesota nice" perception arguably has some gendered aspects to it, said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
"It's totally tied to gender ideals of the 'nice girl next door,'" Dittmar said. "Certainly our perception of her as 'Minnesota nice' I would imagine are tied to her being a woman as well. Voters are more likely to believe that sort of niceness because of the expectation that's a feminine trait."
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) also suggested that female candidates like Klobuchar are facing scrutiny for issues that "don't necessarily get focused on with male candidates, including things like likability."
While any political candidate or officeholder would be scrutinized for allegedly mistreating people, Dittmar said that gender nonetheless plays a role.
"I think it is fair to evaluate any candidate for president based on how they treat their staff and their managerial skills or success. But you do have to also raise these questions," Dittmar added.
Both Eshoo and Speier rejected the notion that Klobuchar's reported temperament could be disqualifying for her as she seeks the Democratic nomination for president.
"No, it's not. It's not. No. I don't think it is. Not at all," Speier said.
"Sounds like mental lint to me," Eshoo said.
In the Fox News interview, Baier acknowledged that "some were saying the questions are sexist to begin with," but asked whether questions about her temperament could make it harder to run as an alternative to Trump.
"So do you have the temperament to be president?" Baier asked.
"I do," Klobuchar replied, pointing to how she's dealt with personal life challenges. "I think I showed that during the [Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanaugh hearings, and I have showed that through my life in terms of how I dealt with adversity in my personal life, growing up with my dad with a pretty severe drinking problem - he's doing well now at age 90 - to the life I lead now."