June will mark 10 years since the time-Rep. Anthony Weiner has resigned following a sexting scandal. What’s remarkable is not that politicians have long misbehaved on Twitter, like the New York Democrat did by sending a woman not his wife a sexually suggestive photo, but that he resigned. at all. Weiner said the distraction caused by embarrassment to his constituents and family forced him out of Congress.
It raises the specter that Democrats will no longer want to sacrifice their political careers when those across the aisle will not.
A decade later, Rep. Matt Gaetz shows that the shame game has changed dramatically – for Republicans at least. The Florida congressman, previously known as one of former President Donald Trump’s biggest boosters on Capitol Hill, has become a national figure in the most unflattering way since the news broke last week according to which the Justice Department is investigating whether Gaetz “ had sex with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him.
Gaetz denies any wrongdoing and says he is not resigning. And his insistence on avoiding bad headlines in power can be a good political bet. After all, recent political history has shown that lawmakers can get away with it – for a while, at least – if they’re willing to stay defiant even as they endure daily revelations about their supposedly sordid personal lives. .
Republican lawmakers – perhaps inspired by the approach of the unrepentant party leader Trump, who has not apologized for his alleged wrongdoing – have increasingly lasted well beyond their political deadlines. Democratic politicians in the modern political era have more often bowed to public pressure.
But while Gaetz is doggedly innovating, it raises the specter that Democrats will no longer want to sacrifice their political careers when those across the aisle don’t. Indeed, we can say with certainty that shame no longer has its place in American political life.
Gaetz is the subject of a Justice Department investigation into allegations of a relationship with the 17-year-old girl and that he paid for her trip across state borders. The investigation is said to be linked to a larger investigation into a political ally of Gaetz, former Seminole County, Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, who was indicted in 2020 on sex trafficking charges and has pleaded not guilty.
In an article published Monday in the Washington Examiner, Gaetz characterized himself as a victim. “People won’t be surprised if bizarre claims are made about me soon after I decide to take the Beltway’s most powerful institutions,” he wrote.
The response was similar, albeit less self-righteous, from scandal-ravaged Republican House members such as Duncan D. Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York. Both remained in office for more than a year after federal indictments in 2018 – Hunter charged with abusing campaign funds and Collins charged with insider trading and lying to the FBI – before resigning after entering into plea agreements with federal prosecutors. They were then spared jail after being pardoned by Trump during his final weeks in office.
While Republicans half-heartedly tried to push Hunter and Collins to do the right thing (their party leader removed their committee assignments, in fact giving lawmakers little to do), Trump was teaching a class of master over political shamelessness, starting with the fall. 2016 Revelations on “Access Hollywood” tape depicting the former “Apprentice” star bragging about sexual misconduct.
Trump has always refused to bow to the scandal. He dismissed the episode as a “locker room talk” and went on to mark one of the biggest upheavals in American political history. A slew of allegations of further sexual indiscretions, business fraud, campaign finance violations and a fomented insurgency after the 2020 election did nothing to shake him up.
In Gaetz’s case, Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy called the initial allegations of underage sex “serious” and said Gaetz would lose his committee duties if charged. But McCarthy did not insist that Gaetz resign.
It was a different story for Democrats. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota announced his resignation in December 2017 after several women raised allegations of sexual misconduct years earlier, although nothing resulted in legal action. Nonetheless, lawmakers in his own party pressed him to step down even before the results of a preliminary Senate Ethics Committee inquiry were obtained – something Franken had said he welcomed.
Then there’s former Rep. Katie Hill, a Democrat from California who resigned in October 2019 after a Tory blog published a report on an alleged affair with a staff member, which she denied. This was followed by the Daily Mail posting nude photos of Hill with her ex-husband and another staff member. Hill was quickly pressured to resign from his party colleagues – and did. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Hill made the right decision in stepping down.
Hill and Gaetz once formed a pair of unlikely congressional friends. Gaetz was pretty much the only Republican defending her in the fall of 2019 when the photos emerged. Amid reports of the Gaetz investigations, however, Hill has become a critic. “If there is even a fraction of the truth in these reports, he should resign immediately,” Hill wrote in Vanity Fair on Monday.
Franken, for his part, said he regretted stepping down so quickly. And if members of a political party don’t have to pay the price for the scandal simply by refusing to be intimidated by it, won’t this course become more appealing to their counterparts who are under fire? critics?
This could partly explain why we see New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo remain so defiant in the face of not one but three brewing scandals – over allegations of sexual harassment by several staff members, to covering up the true scale of deaths from the nursing home. to the Covid-19 pandemic, and to favor friends and family members for access to the Covid-19 test.
During these troubled months, Cuomo took a page out of the GOP’s playbook: he brushed aside calls for his resignation from most of the New York Democratic congressmen even as he faced an investigation by impeachment by the state legislature and an investigation by State Attorney General Letitia James into allegations of sexual harassment.
At the same time, lawmakers appear in no rush to consider impeachment, and after initial calls for the resignation of elected Democrats, there has been largely radio silence. For now, the governor’s wait strategy is working.
For Gaetz, the fact that he’s got this far suggests that not succumbing to public pressure is probably the best political approach.
Granted, that’s not to say that so far all recent Democratic officials have adopted a statesman pose by voluntarily leaving the public arena amid a political scandal. More importantly, President Bill Clinton lied to the nation about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, not admitting it until seven months later, once Lewinsky struck an immunity deal with federal prosecutors and detailed their past affair. By then, however, the worst of any public opinion storm over Clinton’s behavior was over, and he was acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial the following February amid approval ratings. record.
Clinton, however, is largely an exception to the rule of Democratic politics. And until the Trump years, there were a handful of scandalized GOP members who quit like Democrats did, albeit in fewer numbers.
As for Gaetz, the fact that he’s made it this far suggests that not succumbing to public pressure is probably the best political approach. New bursts of breaking news will inevitably erase Gaetz from the headlines, as happened with Cuomo.
It is enough to make even Anthony Weiner blush.