What little tenuous high ground the Democrats in Congress had when it comes to recent sexual harassment and assault has all but evaporated in what continues to be a shocking string of elected officials engaged in reprehensible behavior.
Sure, the Democrats want to keep focused on alleged child predator and Senate hopeful Roy Moore — and that's a good thing. If these accusations prove to be right, then Moore doesn't belong in Congress, he belongs in a courtroom or a jail cell. There can be no explaining or defense for preying on minors. This isn't a matter of politics, it's a matter of protecting children.
And, we're all familiar with President Donald Trump's remarks about grabbing women's genitals. Unfortunately, his election has seemed to provide cover to those who have read his victory as proof that molestation and harassment need not be a disqualification for public office.
That's a shame and a dangerous message to send.
What little high ground the Democrats had was ceded last week when Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was exposed by an awful photo of him pretending to grope a woman while she slept. The victim also said he had forced himself on her with unwanted kissing. Franken didn't deny the accounts, apologized and pledged to work with a Senate ethics investigation.
Though many in his home state of Minnesota thought that what he did was decidedly Minnesota not-nice, Franken rejected calls to resign, and pledged to continue on. Many members of the Democrat Party were either silent or side stepped the issue. The righteous criticism they've aimed so squarely at folks like Trump and Moore has seemed to evaporate when turned internally.
Commenting on Franken, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said,"Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated."
And yet, Schumer hasn't called for Franken's resignation. Schumer's words ring hollow and insincere. What the photographic evidence shows is proof of sexual harassment. Groping at a woman while she sleeps is harassment. And yet even when confronted with photographic evidence, Schumer would not stand by his own words. Allowing Franken to continue on in the Senate appears to be acceptable and tolerated.
We'd point out that when the brave women who came forward to confront Moore, even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, stood opposed to Moore. Even McConnell did more than Democratic leadership.
We're also proud that Montana Sen. Steve Daines, after hearing of the depth and seriousness of the charges against Moore, pulled his support of the candidate.
Montana Democratic Jon Tester donated the amount of money that the Franken campaign gave to him to the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. That's a good move.
Tester also called Franken's actions "inappropriate and unacceptable," but seems to be content with the Minnesotan senator's continued service.
During the weekend, another congressional sex scandal broke when the public learned that longtime Rep. John Conyers of Michigan would step aside from his leadership post after it was revealed that two cases of sexual harassment had been settled against him, including one in which taxpayers were left holding the $27,000 severance bill for his actions.
Instead of condemning this sort of inexcusable and all-too-common behavior, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi revealed the same entrenched attitude on NBC's "Meet The Press," with Chuck Todd. Here's the transcript:
TODD: John Conyers. What does that mean for him? Right now. In or out?
PELOSI: We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused — and was it one accusation? Is it two? I think there has to be — John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great deal to protect women — Violence Against Women Act, which the left — right-wing — is now quoting me as praising him for his work on that, and he did great work on that. But the fact is, as John reviews his case, which he knows, which I don’t, I believe he will do the right thing.
TODD: Why don’t you?
PELOSI: Excuse me. May I finish my sentence?
TODD: Sure, sure.
PELOSI: That he will do the right thing.
Instead of condemning what Conyers did, Pelosi sounded exactly like so many conservatives who have rushed to Moore's defense. In the case of Conyers, due process is one thing — a settlement is quite another.
By Thursday, Pelosi had changed her tune and called for Conyers' resignation. But she failed to immediately respond to the accusations.
For too many years, those elected to the serve have used their power and status as icons and leaders to prey upon others. Leaders have spent plenty of time with mealy-mouthed promises of zero tolerance, but have done little more than a light tongue lashing, usually via press release.
There is one very faint silver lining in this otherwise black cloud of terrible behavior. Neither political party has the upper hand when it comes to tolerating the cancer of sexual harassment. Because of that, we hope there is enough outrage aimed at leaders in both parties that Congress completely overhauls the rules of ethics and investigations.
Because members of Congress got to write their own rules as lawmakers, they made ethics violations and sanctions cumbersome and secret. The process is almost completely outside of the public purview, and therefore, without scrutiny, there is no accountability.
Instead, we call for a complete overhaul. Congress must fully fund and permanently protect an office for ethics investigations. It must be non-partisan and claims that are proven must be fully and widely disclosed. Congress must not be able to bury information that may tarnish the reputation of one of its members.
Without making these changes immediately, it not only leaves the public out of the loop, it also sets up a situation where members can continue to prey on staff members and others without the fear of being caught.
-- The Billings Gazette