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How Democrats And Republicans Are Responding To Sexual Misconduct

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We mentioned several members of Congress who announced their resignations this week. Democrats Senator Al Franken, Representative John Conyers and Republican Trent Franks of Arizona - all leaving after allegations of sexual harassment, this just days before a Senate election in Alabama, where Republican Roy Moore has been accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl and pursuing teenage girls when he was in his 30s and a district attorney.

We're going to speak now with Mary Kate Cary, a former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush. Ms. Cary, thanks so much for being with us.

MARY KATE CARY: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And Karine Jean-Pierre, senior adviser for the progressive policy group moveon.org. Ms. Jean-Pierre, thank you very much for being with us.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And let me begin with you, Ms. Jean-Pierre. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, said she thought Senator Franken wasn't treated fairly by his own party. He said he wasn't guilty. But he never got the chance we think any American has to prove it. And the votes of Minnesota were swept aside so Democrats could make a political point against Roy Moore.

How do you feel?

JEAN-PIERRE: You know, I think that it was very difficult for Senator Franken to have done what he did the other day. As a senator, he's had a very progressive record. And - but there is something to being a leader. There is, unfortunately, a political price to pay when you are a leader, regardless if you're a Republican or a Democrat. And I believe that Franken did the right thing this week.

And I think - and when you have a #MeToo movement - this movement is pretty remarkable. And we've never seen anything like this before. And, you know, we have to be really honest with ourselves. Sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace and in our society is not new. And you can just ask any woman. What is new is that women are speaking out and men are being held accountable, and that is incredibly important.

SIMON: Mary Kate Cary, have Republicans grown more forgiving of Roy Moore the better he does in the polls? Just a month ago, most big-name Republicans have said they - I believe his accusers and he ought to get out of the race. Now they say, as Mr. Eberhardt, our guest, just did - well, that's for the people of Alabama to decide.

CARY: Well, I have to say that the Moore race has certainly exposed some splits in the GOP, Scott. And one split is the establishment, namely Mitch McConnell, coming out early saying that Roy Moore needed to step aside. What happened was that provoked a reaction by sort of Roy Moore Republicans in Alabama - helped by Steve Bannon - who said, oh, if Mitch McConnell tells us what to do, watch this. And they immediately started turning it into, you know, Washington isn't going to tell us what to do. And so I think that's why the Washington establishment has quieted down - because they realize it's provoking the opposite reaction that they intended.

So I don't think they've changed their mind. I think they've just sort of seen what got provoked by that. I do think most rank-and-file Republicans around the country watching this are with the sort of drain the swamp crowd and saying look, you know, a pox on everybody's house. Nobody's clean on this. Both sides have a problem.

And - but the fact is, you know, you were just quoting Mitt Romney. I feel the same way. It is a stain on the GOP. But the fact is, Mitt Romney doesn't have a vote in Alabama. Neither do I. Neither does the donor you just had on the air. So it sounds like a bit of a cop out to say it's up to the people of Alabama, but it's the truth. I mean, we can't vote in Alabama.

SIMON: Let me ask you both. Is there a risk - if this becomes just a way to score political points - what I'll call what about-ism (ph), with Republicans saying - yeah, but what about Bill Clinton? - with Democrats saying - yeah, but what about President Trump?

JEAN-PIERRE: Well I, you know, I think the bottom line is it's the right thing to do, to hold these elected officials - they're our leaders - accountable. I don't think it should be about politics at all. And that is the dangerous territory that I think we're all headed to. And this is taking off my partisan hat because weaponizing and politicizing this can be a huge problem. And when you start making it between Democrats versus Republicans - because the further we get away from actually finding the solution, Scott, for the problem, which is systematic, then we won't be able to do that. And more women could get hurt.

SIMON: Is the solution more women in elected office from both parties? Let me get you both to talk about that.

CARY: Yeah, yes (laughter). The answer is yes.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. Yes, you knew you were going to get us to agree on that one. Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Ms. Cary, I have to ask you explicitly - there have been allegations of groping against former President George H.W. Bush for whom you used to work. Are those claims credible to you?

CARY: You know, I made a documentary about him. And I - it was the best job I ever had in my life was to work for President Bush as his speechwriter. And I never saw anything like this when he was in office. And nothing anybody's going to say to me is going to change my mind about the fact that I think he's a great American. Now, the latest allegations - as far as I know - were all from when he was in a wheelchair at age 93 with Parkinson's. And so I just don't think it's anything. He's not in the same category with some of the other people we're talking about. And I think anybody who's walked into a nursing home in America knows what we're talking about. And that's a totally different animal than what we've seen in Capitol Hill right now.

SIMON: And Karine Jean-Pierre, I guess while we're on this subject of past political history, do you think the progressive movement made a mistake in the way they reacted to the charges against Bill Clinton? - maybe less the Monica Lewinsky case than Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey and others.

JEAN-PIERRE: I think we could done better, absolutely. I don't think that we did the right thing back then. But now we have an opportunity to step up and be leaders in this and do the right thing and hold people with power accountable. And I think that's what we saw this week. I believe that's what Democrats are trying to do.

CARY: And I think - same on our side, on the Republican side - some of this legislation that has come forward with bipartisan support to change the culture on Capitol Hill and to put forth an end to these payments at taxpayer expense is all a good thing. And I think it's a great opportunity for the leadership to take the high road.

SIMON: Karine Jean-Pierre, moveon.org senior adviser and Mary Kate Cary was a former speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush - joined us by Skype. Thank you to you both very much for being with us.

CARY: Great. Thank you.

JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.