Quick firing not an option in political sex-misconduct cases
When sexual-misconduct allegations surface in the private sector, a boss can say, “You’re fired” – as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and others can attest. In the political world, it’s never that simple.
Rep. John Conyers has refused to step down even after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged the veteran Democrat from Detroit to do so. Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota faces a Senate ethics investigation but plans to stay on. And Republican Roy Moore is pressing ahead with his Senate candidacy in Alabama despite allegations he sexually assaulted two teenage girls decades ago.
In the recent cases where the alleged harasser worked for a major media organization, the firings have been depicted as necessary to uphold the company’s reputation.
But elected officials “are their own brands,” said Gayle Goldin, a Democratic state senator from Rhode Island. “It’s up to them to decide how they’re going to respond to pressure on them to step down.”
Members of Congress can, as a matter of fact, be expelled by their colleagues. But lawmakers historically have been loath to do that. Since the Civil War, only two have been expelled; they were ousted in 1980 and 2002, both of them for corruption.
Politicians often try to hang on by retaining the support of their base and cling to the notion that in a democracy, the voters are the ultimate bosses.
In Moore’s case, elements of the national Republican Party have repudiated the fiery religious conservative, but the Alabama GOP – and many voters – remain supportive as he faces Democrat Doug Jones in a Dec. 12 special election.
Debra Katz, an attorney in Washington who specializes in sexual-harassment cases, noted that Moore doesn’t need nationwide good will to the extent that TV personalities such as Rose and Lauer do.
“With politicians, there’s a spin machine that immediately goes into place – and a different constituency they are playing to,” Katz said. “They’re assuming their political base will allow them to continue in their roles, and they can continue to slap at the press and brand any continued reporting as fake news.”
The Rev. Robert Franklin, professor of moral leadership at Emory University’s school of theology in Atlanta, said an accusation against a politician can play out differently than one against someone in the private sector.
In the political arena, “an alleged transgression often triggers protection, loyalty and ‘circling the wagons,’ rather than abandonment,” Franklin said by email.