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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.

{mosads}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 Conway 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 Franken resigned from the Senate and John Conyers 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 Trump, and dawdling along, as seen in the months given to Trent Franks and Blake Farenthold 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 Israel 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.

Tags Al Franken Americans Blake Farenthold campaign Congress Democrats Donald Trump Election Eric Schneiderman Government John Conyers Kellyanne Conway Politics Republicans Steve Israel Trent Franks voters White House Women

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