Dozens of Democrats, including both New York senators, most of the state’s congressional delegation and more than half of the legislators, have called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. But Joe Biden has resisted.
The president said on Tuesday that he would wait for the investigation into allegations against the governor to be complete before weighing in on Cuomo’s future. That puts him at odds with some women’s groups, who have called on Cuomo to step down and reiterated their belief that survivors need to be believed in the #MeToo era. But despite lagging behind his own party, those groups are giving Biden a pass.
Biden’s remarks represent “a promising first step,” said Shaunna Thomas, executive director of UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy group that has called on Cuomo to resign.
The groups even praised Biden for what appeared to be an off-hand suggestion that Cuomo might be prosecuted if the sexual misconduct accusations against him were found to be true; all while saying they’d encourage the president to go further.
“The fact that Biden is steering the investigation in that direction is important,” said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of Women’s March. “It’s a strong signal that there needs to be real accountability.”
“We plan to continue to pressure Cuomo and the White House to do the right thing for women here as we look to right the wrongs women have certainly been dealing with for more than the last four years but especially in the last four years,” Carmona added. “The thing that has set Biden apart … is that he listens and shifts. He can be moved.”
In comments to ABC News, Biden told anchor George Stephanopoulos that Cuomo should resign if an investigation confirms the claims of his accusers. “I think he’ll probably end up being prosecuted too,” Biden added.
When asked about statements by nearly the entire Democratic party in New York that Cuomo cannot serve effectively anymore, Biden said, "That’s a judgment for them to make."
New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, has launched an investigation into the half-dozen allegations against Cuomo of groping, sexual harassment and berating phone calls. Cuomo, who also faces all allegations that he hid Covid nursing home deaths, has apologized for unintentionally causing harm to women but insisted he has never touched any woman “inappropriately.”
“It is protective of survivors to have a fair and neutral person without a partisan agenda engaging in assessing allegations,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, which runs the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. “It is protective of survivors to not be put in a situation where we are subject to public figures with political goals minimizing experiences or supporting experiences.”
But Lindsey Boylan, the first woman to accuse Cuomo of sexual harassment, has criticized both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Twitter for staying relatively silent on the allegations until recently. She deleted one of her tweets over the weekend that questioned their judgment and courage.
Biden’s comments to ABC echo the approach he took during the presidential campaign when he faced his own decades-old allegation of sexual assault by a former staffer.
After former Senate aide Tara Reade accused Biden of sexually assaulting her in a Senate hallway in 1993, Biden said women’s stories “should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny” and called on “responsible news organizations” to examine and evaluate her story.
Reade had previously said Biden had touched her inappropriately but did not assault her. Others came forward to say that Reade told them about the incident years ago, though none of the Senate aides Reade said she spoke to recalled the incident.
Women’s groups were quick on Wednesday to note that the allegations against Biden and Cuomo are different. Cuomo faces multiple similar accusations of misconduct that are alleged to have occurred during his current job. Neither were true in Biden’s case, they say.
“Reasonable minds can differ on that and that’s what you’re seeing right now,” said Paula Brantner, a lawyer who runs a consulting firm that deals with sexual harassment and signed a letter asking James to protect accusers and avoid political interference in her investigation.
Brantner said if he was not the governor, Cuomo would likely be on leave already. “We need to have accountability and any resignation that short circuits accountability, it’s not something I personally want to see,” she said.
Most prominent New York Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, want Cuomo to leave office in the wake of allegations by the women and an unrelated nursing home scandal.
Women’s groups, including the National Organization for Women, agree. On Wednesday, they flew a banner reading “New Yorkers Say: Cuomo’s Got to Go,” over the state Capitol and Governor’s Mansion in Albany.
“There is an urgent need to remove him from a position of power — honestly starting with the safety of his own staff,” Thomas said.
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