Eric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties

Eric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties
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Several months ago at a Long Island diner, former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman invited me to discuss his future plans. If Andrew Cuomo left office, he said, he would seek the Democratic nomination for governor.

It was the worst kept secret in New York politics. Everyone in New York’s chattering class knew that Schneiderman would vacate his position to run for governor if Cuomo won the presidency in 2020. Even the waiter in that diner must have known. The burning question wasn’t who’d replace Cuomo, it was who’d replace Schneiderman.

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It still is, but the circumstances have radically changed. Schneiderman has gone from heir apparent to alleged perpetrator. The New Yorker rattled the state with an explosive article by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow alleging that Schneiderman had assaulted women. The man who tried to bring Harvey Weinstein to justice and wrote legislation imposing stronger penalties for strangling as a form of sex abuse was now #HimToo.

Three hours after the article surfaced, Schneiderman announced his resignation. The gloating in the White House began almost instantly. Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne ConwayPennsylvania Republican David McCormick launches Senate campaign McCormick drawing support from Trump alumni ahead of Pennsylvania Senate bid Christie says Trump, Meadows should have warned him of positive COVID-19 test MORE tweeted, “Gotcha,” a jarringly poor choice of words given her boss’s infamous “grab them by the [expletive]” proclamation. Meanwhile, the women Schneiderman allegedly assaulted struggle for normalcy, not to be used as political exhibits but to pursue justice.

To the extent that sexual harassment becomes an issue in the upcoming midterms, there are warning signs for both parties. For Democrats, navigating the issue of sexual harassment has become complicated and even frustrating. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenMeet the Democrats' last best hope of preserving a House majority Franken rules out challenge against Gillibrand for Senate seat Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour MORE resigned from the Senate and John ConyersJohn James ConyersA presidential candidate pledge can right the wrongs of an infamous day Michigan redistricting spat exposes competing interests in Democratic coalition Detroit voters back committee to study reparations MORE both resigned from the House. Schneiderman took a total of three hours to announce his resignation.

Meanwhile, the president — accused by a dozen women of abuse and evidently spending more on hush money than some Walmart employees make in a year — remains in office and unscathed by such allegations.

Democrats are right to argue that their “no tolerance” policy beats a GOP response that’s somewhere between shrugging shoulders, as many Republicans do when it comes to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE, and dawdling along, as seen in the months given to Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Arizona New Members 2019 Cook shifts 8 House races toward Dems MORE and Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations MORE before they resigned from Congress, and the defiance of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. But “we try harder” is never a good slogan in politics.

Meanwhile, GOP temptation to highlight Democratic transgressions comes at great risk. I understand the strategy of “message muddling” to deflect negative impressions about a candidate by projecting them on the opponent. But the more Trump and his allies raise the issue, the more it remains an urgency requiring a solution. Christine Matthews, a GOP pollster was right in telling the New York Times that “misconduct in either party is likely to heighten voters demands for a comprehensive response.”

The massive energy in the midterm election this year means that any issue can catch electoral fire. Women who weren’t politically engaged but amassed in Washington after the Inauguration Day may propel this wave, which is why both parties should respond.

Democrats shouldn’t paint the issue of sexual assault and harassment as a partisan issue. Tragically, power corrupts on both sides of the aisle. Democrats should build on what they’ve done already by responding to allegations swiftly, demonstrating that there are severe circumstances to repugnant behavior, and demanding that Congress clean its own offices by strengthening the procedures for dealing with allegations.

For Republicans like Trump and Conway who gloat when Democrats are accused, beware. It’s true that neither political party has a monopoly on virtue. But this White House is the ultimate glass house, and it would be wise not to throw stones. In fact, we’d all be better off focusing on a strategy that protects women rather than scoring political points.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Biden seeks to avoid referendum with sharp attacks on GOP Stopping the next insurrection MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. His latest novel, “Big Guns,” was published this spring by Simon & Schuster. You can fllow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.