Dems accused of MeToo hypocrisy in Virginia

Democrats in Washington are fighting GOP allegations of hypocrisy over the political maelstrom roiling their party in Virginia.

The accusations come just months after national Democrats, near the height of the "Me Too" movement, demanded Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughKavanaugh book co-author admits to writing 'misworded' NY Times tweet The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to California Trump calls New York Times 'a very sad joke all over the world' MORE abandon his Supreme Court nomination following allegations he had sexually assaulted a teenage girl when he was in high school.

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Republicans are now focusing on how Democrats have stopped short of calling for the resignation of Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who is facing similar allegations surrounding an incident also said to have occurred many years ago.

Many Capitol Hill Democrats are holding their fire and urging Virginia state officials to conduct an investigation.

The juxtaposed episodes — and the contrasting responses — are creating headaches for Democrats in Richmond and Washington; testing the party’s zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment charges, regardless of how old; and prompting charges from across the aisle that Democrats are applying a double standard purely to protect one of their own.

Democrats “have not really been saying, ‘He’s got to go. He’s got to go.’ And it does go to show you have to be very careful when these allegations are made,” Rep. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtHouse advances B agriculture bill Dems advance bill defying Trump State Department cuts Maryland raises legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 MORE (R-Ala.) said Thursday. “With the Kavanaugh thing, it makes you look like you have a double standard if you don’t do that across the board.”

Fairfax is one of three top Democrats in Virginia fighting to keep their seats amid potentially career-ending scandals. Gov. Ralph Northam is under fire for his association with a racist photograph in his 1984 medical school yearbook; and Attorney General Mark Herring is struggling to contain the backlash from revelations that he donned blackface as an undergraduate college student in 1980.

If Northam were to resign, Fairfax would become the nation’s only black governor.

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On top of that, The Virginian-Pilot reported Thursday that Virginia state Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) was the managing editor of a college yearbook that published racist blackface photos and racial slurs directed at African-Americans and Asians.

"You know what Faulkner said? 'The past isn't dead, it isn't even past,' " said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinThis week: Congress returns for first time since mass shootings Trump probes threaten to overshadow Democrats' agenda House Democrats planning to hold hearings regarding Trump's role in hush-money payments: report MORE (D), who represents a congressional district in neighboring Maryland. "And, you know, Virginia is one of those Faulknerian states."

Among the swirl of scandals, it’s been the Fairfax allegations that have attracted the most attention from conservatives, who are calling on Democrats to press the 39-year-old rising star to step down.

Fairfax’s “Democratic colleagues are standing with him and against her,” said conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson. “In the space of just a few months the standard for believing sexual assault accusers has changed completely.”

Fairfax has vehemently denied allegations from a Scripps College professor, Vanessa Tyson, that he sexually assaulted her in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. He was not a state officeholder at the time. 

While Fairfax said survivors of sexual assault should be listened to, he has described the 2004 encounter as “consensual.”

"I would like to encourage the media, my supporters and others to treat both the woman who made this allegation and my family with respect for how painful this situation can be for everyone involved," Fairfax said. "I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true."

Kavanaugh similarly denied the allegations facing him, and even some liberal Democrats acknowledged their dilemma as they scramble in search of the appropriate response to the recent events in Virginia.

"It's a fine mess that the top three have gotten themselves into,” said Rep. Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayHouse Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment Appetite for Democratic term limits fizzling out Young Democrats look to replicate Ocasio-Cortez's primary path MORE (D-Mo.). “And I don't know how this ends.”

In another parallel to the Kavanaugh episode, Fairfax last week re-hired the same law firm retained by the now Supreme Court justice, after initially employing their services in January of 2018. And Tyson, a Democrat, hired the firm that represented Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, also a California university professor. 

Democrats said Thursday that Tyson’s story is “credible” — especially since she has come forward publicly, provided many graphic details and has a stellar reputation — but they are not calling on Fairfax to resign.

“I’m inclined to believe that her statement is true. She seems very credible,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who served two terms as lieutenant governor during the 1990s. But he is not calling for Fairfax’s resignation. 

“I’m also going to look at the people who deal closely with him, especially in the African-American community, for first steps,” Beyer said.

Democratic Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineBolton exit provokes questions about Trump shift on Iran Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Air Force nominee: Setting up Space Force would be 'key imperative' MORE, a former Virginia governor who was former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to California Hillary Clinton: Voter suppression has led to 'crisis in democracy' in the US MORE’s 2016 running mate, said he didn’t have enough information about whether Fairfax needs to resign. But during his 2018 reelection campaign, he slammed his GOP challenger, Corey Stewart, for campaigning with Republicans accused of sexual assault while dismissing the allegations Ford made against Kavanaugh.

“We all believe it should be taken seriously, but I don't think you'll see us reach a conclusion about that,” Kaine told reporters Thursday.

"What we have is a very compelling and detailed statement of a serious, serious charge … by a respected professional, and we also have a very unequivocal denial of that charge by someone we know real well,” Kaine added. “But we don't have an investigation. We haven't seen him live. And so a lot of what I had when I did reach a conclusion in that [Blasey Ford] case, I don't have right now."

In a sign of just how thorny the Richmond uproar has become for Democrats, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPence says it's 'vital' for Congress to pass US-Mexico-Canada trade deal The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to California Obama, Bush among those paying tribute to Cokie Roberts: 'A trailblazing figure' MORE (D-Calif.) — who last week called for Northam to resign — declined to weigh in Thursday on the fates of Fairfax and Herring. And she appeared ready to wash her hands of the whole affair.

“Virginians will resolve their issues,” she told reporters. “It's sad because they have some very talented leaders there, but they have to have the confidence of the electorate, and they have to have the confidence of the legislature that they have to work with.

“But I'll leave that up to them. I have enough to do here, without getting involved in the affairs of Virginia."

Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinProspects for Trump gun deal grow dimmer Senators struggle to get spending bills off ground as shutdown looms Trump defends push to ban flavored e-cigarettes: Let's 'keep young children from Vaping!' MORE (D-Ill.) barked at reporters who pressed him about the Fairfax situation.

“I have so many things I’m working on. I’m just not getting into it. You don’t take no for an answer, do you?” he said. “I don’t know her. All I know is what I read in the newspaper.”

Asked about whether he believed Blasey Ford’s allegations were credible, Durbin replied: “I’m not getting into this.”

Some Democrats rejected the notion that they’re applying a double standard to Fairfax.

"Nobody asked Kavanaugh to resign — it was a matter of whether he was going to get a promotion or not,” said Rep. A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinRacial politics roil Democratic Party CBC lawmakers rip Justice Democrats for targeting black lawmakers for primaries Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support MORE (D-Va.), a former state legislator in Richmond who’s now a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.  “But just as in the Kavanaugh situation, what we really need to do is have an investigation. Obviously, that's not a congressional issue, it's a state issue.”

The trio of controversies rocking Richmond is also seeping into the 2020 Democratic presidential race. Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Poll: 33 percent of voters undecided on who won third Democratic debate Jon Bon Jovi: Booker would 'do an amazing job' as president MORE (D-N.J.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCalifornia poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth Kamala Harris calls for new investigation into Kavanaugh allegations Poll: Biden holds five-point lead over Warren among New York Democrats MORE (D-Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAt debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions Klobuchar, Buttigieg find themselves accidentally flying to debate together MORE (D-N.Y.) all suggested Tyson’s allegations were credible and needed to be investigated.

“I support Dr. Tyson. She showed enormous courage in coming forward, and her very credible claims require investigation,” Gillibrand said. “In this country, institutional bias stacks against survivors, for the powerful. We have to support survivors first so their claims can be fully investigated.”

It’s unclear what kind of investigation could be launched into Fairfax, given that the alleged assault took place almost 15 years ago. Some Virginia Democrats suggested a special committee could be formed to look into the matter.

“Certainly her allegations should be looked into. I think her allegations need to be looked into,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzDemocrats walk tightrope in fight over Trump wall funds Parkland father: Twitter did not suspend users who harassed me using name of daughter's killer Hillicon Valley: Senate Intel releases election security report | GOP blocks votes on election security bills | Gabbard sues Google over alleged censorship | Barr meets state AGs on tech antitrust concerns MORE (D-Fla.), the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, told The Hill. “As far as I know, she is the only one that’s made those allegations. And if she says it happened, and she has been as detailed as she has, I think an investigation is warranted.”

Even then, the ultimate fate of Fairfax would likely be controversial.

“How does he prove himself innocent of something that occurred 15 years ago? And then how does she verify what she described occurred?” asked Clay. “That's a tricky one.”

Jordain Carney and Cristina Marcos contributed.