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The Memo: Cuomo clings to political life

The position of New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoCNN's Lemon, Cuomo to host new podcast 'Hamilton,' 'Wicked' among Broadway shows reopening Sept. 14 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Infrastructure, Cheney ouster on deck as Congress returns MORE (D) is getting more and more dire — and he is growing more and more defiant. Something has to give.

In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Cuomo cast himself as the victim of “cancel culture” and as the target of other politicians who “take positions for all sorts of reasons, including political expediency.”

Those remarks came after nine members of New York’s congressional delegation — including high profile names such as House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month A historic moment to truly honor mothers Britney Spears to discuss conservatorship in court MORE (D) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez hits Yang over scrapped Eid event: 'Utterly shameful' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel The Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel MORE (D) — called for his resignation.

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Later that day, both of the Empire State’s senators, Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Biden to host Sinema for meeting on infrastructure proposal MORE (D) and Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAustin tight lipped on whether to take sexual assault cases out of commanders' hands Gillibrand touts legislation to lower drug costs: This idea 'is deeply bipartisan' A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces MORE (D) also called for Cuomo to go.

A seventh woman has now come forward to accuse the New York governor of inappropriate behavior. A former aide who was identified only as “Kaitlan” told New York Magazine that Cuomo had been “verbally and mentally” abusive to her. 

The most egregious allegation to date comes from another unnamed aide who said Cuomo groped her at the gubernatorial mansion in Albany, N.Y.

In his call with reporters, Cuomo insisted that he had not done what was alleged, though he sidestepped a question about whether he had relationships with any of the women that he considered consensual.

Cuomo also implied that there was political or personal animus behind the allegations, arguing that “a lot of people allege a lot of things for a lot of reasons.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia ‘Tish’ James, is at the helm of an investigative process into the allegations. Cuomo is, for now, insisting that process must play out.

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“People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture and the truth,” he said.

Cuomo is a political street fighter and always has been — a reputation that stretches back to his work on the campaigns of his late father, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D). But whether his taste for close combat will enable him to survive this time around is very open to question.

Even the New York political cognoscenti are divided on the point.

“The court of public opinion has changed for the governor and is now turning against him,” said George Arzt, a veteran New York strategist who served as an adviser to Cuomo’s campaign for a second term in 2014. The governor is currently in his third term.

“I think, clearly, he is really on the ropes and the only thing that could make him stretch it out a little is to say to wait for the Tish James investigation,” Arzt added.

But another New York Democratic operative, Hank Sheinkopf, was more sanguine about Cuomo’s chances of survival.

“You can bet he will stay through the investigation and its report, because these are all allegations and he is perfectly entitled to have his side of the argument heard,” he said.

Sheinkopf was speaking with The Hill before Schumer and Gillibrand made their joint declaration. Their terse four-sentence statement concluded: “Due to the multiple, credible sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, it is clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and the people of New York. Governor Cuomo should resign.”

Cuomo has already lost the confidence of a significant number of state legislators, which is a particular problem as he is in the middle of trying to negotiate New York’s budget at a time when the state is under severe financial pressure because of COVID-19.

It has been a startlingly sharp fall for Cuomo, who became a national figure during the early days of the pandemic. His press conferences served as a counterpoint to then-President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote READ: Liz Cheney's speech on the House floor Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' MORE’s White House briefings, and there was even talk of Cuomo making a late bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Now, in addition to the allegations of sexual harassment, Cuomo has been under fire after it emerged that his administration had withheld data about COVID deaths in nursing homes.

There are other, strong cross-currents in New York politics that will also determine Cuomo’s fate.

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Firstly, his style is famously combative. His running feud with New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de Blasio3 shot, including 1 child, in Times Square New York area will lift capacity restrictions May 19 NYC 24-hour subway service resumes May 17 MORE (D) is well-known but the past few weeks have brought long-whispered allegations of hectoring and bullying out into the open. Even when Cuomo was riding high, he bent others to his will but made plenty of enemies in the process.

Secondly, Cuomo has never been popular with the left, which is strong in New York. He faced primary challenges in 2014 from Zephyr Teachout, and in 2018 from Cynthia Nixon, both of whom sought to rally progressive discontent with Cuomo.

Political insiders in the state see those dynamics playing out in the rush of lawmakers now condemning Cuomo.

Moderate, establishment-friendly Democrats who might otherwise align with Cuomo “face challenges with progressives and the DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] people,” said one New York Democratic strategist who sought anonymity to speak candidly. “They’re saying to themselves, ‘Do I want to risk being challenged from the left because I didn’t speak up fast enough?’”

Cuomo, despite his long political pedigree, painted himself as a victimized outsider during his conference call with reporters Friday. 

“I’m not part of the political club and you know what? I’m proud of it,” he said.

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For now, he is simply clinging to political life.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.