© 2021 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Sexual Harassment Charges Put Politicians On Defensive


And we're going to stay with this story - Congress and sexual harassment - as the starting point for our Friday week in politics check-in. Here to help us take stock of yet another slow week in Washington - E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, also co-author of "One Nation Under Trump." Hey there, E.J.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

KELLY: And also with us - Guy Benson, political editor of townhall.com. Welcome to you.

GUY BENSON: Happy Friday.

KELLY: Guy, we're going to give you first word here. I want you to respond. So we heard there that quote from Senator Franken, soon to be ex-Senator Franken, in which he talked about irony - his word - the irony, as he sees it, that he's stepping down while a man who's bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office. Does Franken have a point?

BENSON: He does have a point, especially vis-a-vis Trump and also about Roy Moore, although he claimed that the Republican Party is fully supporting Moore, and that's just not true. The party is roiled on the issue with many major players totally denouncing Moore. I don't think that Al Franken is a good messenger for that point, but I think he's previewing what the Democratic Party hopes to prosecute next year, saying, we've cleaned up our own house; the Republican Party refuses to do so.

I do suspect and wonder at least that the acid test on this on the Democratic side may really be tested, so to speak, if one of these allegations that are rumored to still be forthcoming - there is discussion in this town of maybe dozens more allegations being reported...

KELLY: How many more shoes may drop, yeah.

BENSON: ...In the next few days or weeks. If there are Democrats in red states with Republican governors that would shift the balance of power, will the Democratic Party have the exact same attitude that they do or at least that they've evinced about Franken and Conyers, two people who currently occupy very safe blue seats?

KELLY: Speaking of red states, you mentioned Roy Moore. We mentioned Alabama. E.J., to what extent do you think events unfolding here in Washington this week are linked to events that are going to take place next Tuesday in Alabama?

DIONNE: Well, I think clearly the Democrats want to underscore the very point that Al Franken made in that speech. And by the way, whenever I touch on anything to do with Al Franken, I have to say, I went to college with him. I've known him for 45 years. I've always liked and respected him. And part - there's a - I know why this had to happen. But there's a big part of me that's very sad about losing somebody in the Senate who's very effective.

Nonetheless, this is a big issue now for good reason. Democrats would like now to be able to say, look at the Republicans with Roy Moore and also with Donald Trump in the White House. And as Susan said in the setup piece, the Republicans are in a very difficult position on this issue because of Donald Trump. I think there is - I think that we don't have any idea how that race is going to turn out.

I have a feeling that both sides may be lying to the pollsters. Some people don't want to admit that they're voting for Roy Moore. And in Alabama, some people don't want to admit that they're voting for a Democrat. So I think it's a very hard race to read. And I - but I think the Republicans lose far more if Roy Moore wins than if Roy Moore loses.

KELLY: Guy...

DIONNE: If he wins, they get a seat. I mean, if he loses, they lose a seat. But if he wins, they're stuck with this story for a long time.

BENSON: Oh, and I think...

KELLY: You have an I-want-to-jump-in look on your face. Go for it, Guy.

BENSON: Well, yeah 'cause I think that there will be plenty of people in the media and in the Democratic Party who would love to make Roy Moore the face of the Republican Party. And as someone who leans to the right, that would be a horrifying prospect for me. I suspect - especially, there's a development today with one of Moore's accusers who has admitted that she doctored part of a signature on that yearbook that she presented as evidence, that she knew Roy Moore. She says he actually signed it, but she added some details. That I think is going to be a toehold for the Moore campaign to say, aha, it's a forgery; it's all fake; these are all lies. And I think the chances of him winning were already pretty good. I think they went up today.

KELLY: It's interesting that so many details are still uncertain and developing as this - as we come down to the wire on this race in Alabama. Let me turn you two to another topic - complete change of pace here - Jerusalem.

BENSON: (Laughter).

KELLY: Here is President Trump speaking this Wednesday, upending decades of U.S. policy in the Middle East.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today we finally acknowledge the obvious - that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

KELLY: E.J., among other things, this naming Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying the U.S. is going to recognize it as the capital - this is the president keeping a campaign promise to his base. To what extent do you see domestic politics intertwining here, maybe even trumping here international diplomacy?

DIONNE: I think there's a lot of evidence that this has to do with domestic politics. I heard one evangelical leader say this week that partly this was about intervening in the Alabama Senate race because a lot of evangelicals who are - will be a big part of Roy Moore's base feel very strongly about Israel.

I think the problem - I think what the president did was reckless not because someday we're not going to recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. But as Tom Friedman of The New York Times has said, this was always going to be part of an elaborate negotiation that would involve concessions to the Palestinians and the concession from them that Jerusalem - at least part of Jerusalem - is Israel's capital. So there are very few people in the diplomatic world on - in either party who thought that this was anything but reckless.

KELLY: Guy, what do you think - reckless?

BENSON: Well, I think the Palestinians have been offered many concessions many times and have turned them down. And to me, this was the president stating something that is empirically true and factual. Yes, he was also following through on a promise that he made to the electorate but also fulfilling a law that was passed by Congress overwhelmingly in 1995, reaffirmed earlier this year unanimously in the Senate about Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel, which it is. And so I'm really not jumping aboard the outrage train on this one at all.

KELLY: Very quick last word to each of you - I'm going to give you each a final sentence because there is a lot still on the plate for December. Congress is heading home trying to sort out the tax plan, trying to avert a government shutdown. What are you each watching for?

DIONNE: I'm watching to see if the complexity of actually fixing this tax plan doesn't lose the Republicans the vote they need - votes they need to pass it. That's a long shot. Susan Collins is in doubt now I think.

KELLY: The senator from Maine. Guy - last word.

BENSON: I think they will pass the tax plan. And listening to Schumer earlier, it sounds like there is some optimism about getting the government funded as well.

KELLY: That is Guy Benson of the website townhall.com. And E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Thanks very much to you both, gentlemen.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

BENSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.