Nearly every day since the Harvey Weinstein allegations surfaced, society has started changing its attitude on sexual harassment. This week, much of that evidence is coming from Washington, where accusations are roiling the corridors of power and cost one powerful congressman his job. By the end of the day, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) could be the second sitting member of Congress to resign amid sexual harassment allegations.
It feels like a banner week for this movement. And yet, in so many ways, it doesn’t.
Here are three big news events that suggest Washington is helping reshape cultural attitudes toward sexual harassment. And here are three major, major caveats to that progress.
1. A sitting senator could resign amid groping allegations: About 24 hours after John Conyers Jr. stepped down from his House seat over harassment allegations, more than two dozen Senate Democrats demanded that Franken resign over claims that he groped or forcibly kissed women over the span of a decade. It’s a big change from just weeks earlier, when they supported a Senate ethics investigation into Franken’s conduct rather than asking him to resign.
Franken has tried to keep his job by apologizing and said he doesn’t remember the incidents. But his job is definitely on the rocks now, and he knows it. Franken will be making an “announcement” Thursday. He stressed Wednesday he hadn’t made a decision.
Senator Franken will be making an announcement tomorrow. More details to come.
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) December 6, 2017
But but but: Some Senate Democrats said they decided to ditch Franken because he faced more accusers Wednesday. But he had been facing allegations for three weeks, which raises the question: why did Senate Democrats decide the seventh and eighth accusations were the last straw? Their timing makes more sense when you consider the political dynamics surrounding the calls for Franken to step down.
Republicans could elect Alabama’s Roy Moore to the Senate next week, so Democrats were running out of time to draw a moral distinction between their party and the other side.
And the drip-drip-drip of Franken’s accusers had become too much of a political liability for the party, especially when you consider a Quinnipiac Poll that found 77 percent of Democrats think a lawmaker should resign when facing multiple sexual harassment allegations.
2. A powerful congressman resigned amid sexual harassment allegations: Conyers became the first accused member of Congress to lose his job in this wave. And Conyers was a big fish: He was the longest-serving member of Congress before he abruptly left his job Tuesday amid allegations from multiple former staffers and calls from Democratic leaders for him to step down.
But but but: Conyers left Congress without even acknowledging his accusers, and he certainly didn’t admit to any wrongdoing. It was simply time for the 88-year-old to “retire” in the middle of his term, is how he framed it.
That means that instead of having to defend himself from accusations in an ethics investigation, Conyers got to leave Congress on his own terms, all while trying to “protect” his legacy by endorsing his son to fill the seat.
3. #MeToo is Time’s Person of the Year: Hours before Franken’s situation worsened, Time magazine awarded its Person of the Year honor to women from “virtually all corners of the globe” who shared their stories of sexual harassment.
The dissonance between this year’s winners and last year’s winner (President Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment by more than a dozen women) is impossible to ignore.
But but but: As my colleague Philip Bump calculated, in 80 years, an American woman has never won Time’s Person of the Year award by herself. It’s a reflection of how much power men have held in this country, he says.
4. A candidate accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers could lose a winnable election next week: A Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in 30 years, not since Richard C. Shelby emerged victorious and switched parties soon after.
And on Tuesday, a Democrat might break that losing streak. Polls show the race between Moore, the GOP nominee, and Democrat Doug Jones as neck and neck.
But but but: A candidate accused of sexual misconduct toward teens could win an election next week. The president of the United States backs him.
Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2017
So does the Republican National Committee, which started writing checks to help Moore weeks after twisting the spigot off.
Senate Republicans desperately tried to get Moore to drop out. When that failed, they made clear that they support a bipartisan Senate ethics investigation, but it’s not clear whether there’s enough political willpower to expel an elected lawmaker.
Perhaps most crucially, Moore’s supporters don’t believe his accusers. They believe there’s a conspiracy against him. That is largely because of where news of the accusers comes from — an East Coast newspaper in the form of The Washington Post — and who believes them — Democratic lawmakers and the same Senate Republicans who didn’t support Moore in the first place.
“This late in the game, it insults my intelligence that you think I’m going to fall for it,” hair salon owner and Moore supporter Therese Gilmore told The Post’s James Hohmann.
To sum up: By the week’s end, two sitting members of Congress could be out of a job because of sexual misconduct claims. But another could win an election despite them. When there’s progress, there’s always a caveat. Such is the muddied state of affairs in Washington around sexual harassment.