The new report, accusing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, of sexually molesting several women has increased the likelihood of his being ousted – but it has let down fears that he is off the hook is not completely appeased.
The New York Attorney General's report documented testimony from 11 women, mostly state employees, who alleged Cuomo behaved inappropriately towards them. The allegations included behaviors ranging from unwanted kisses and touches to inappropriate comments. A government official claims that Cuomo groped her breast; others describe the governor telling sex jokes and commenting on what they looked like.
This isn't even the only scandal Cuomo faces – investigators are investigating his handling of data on Covid-19 deaths in New York nursing homes and investigating whether he used government funds to write and promote a book, among other things . A criminal complaint by the district attorney's office is also possible. (In response, a governor's attorney issued a statement claiming that the worst allegations were simply untrue, and Cuomo himself claimed in a Twitter video that he had a habit of touching people's faces and doing so intend nothing sexual.)
A chorus of senior Democrats at the national and state levels – including President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New York City Democratic candidate Eric Adams, and the entire New York Democratic Congress delegation – are concluded that enough is enough and called for Cuomos to resign.
The problem is, at least for now, he says he won't.
In a news conference on Tuesday, August 3, President Joe Biden told reporters that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo should resign following a state investigation into his conduct.
Win McNamee / Getty Images
What's next? An impeachment vote in the New York State Assembly threatens that Cuomo could be involuntarily removed from power. But the Democrats still hope that won't be necessary. As New York Senator James Skoufis recently said, the hope is that once Cuomo is made clear that his impeachment and dismissal is safe to save face.
Politicians plagued by scandals often resign not out of shame or docility, but because they have come to the conclusion that voluntary office is the least bad and face-saving option for them personally.
That could still happen. But Cuomo has obviously not yet concluded that he is doomed. We have seen politicians fend off resignation requests and fight back impeachment efforts, even in the face of seemingly damning evidence. If Cuomo continues to refuse to leave, Democrats have two options to oust him against his will: 1) by impeachment, and 2) in the 2022 election if impeachment fails and Cuomo continues his bid for re-election.
Cuomo appears to be headed for impeachment proceedings
A scandal-provoked resignation is nothing new to the New York Democrats, given the overthrow of Governor Eliot Spitzer (2008) and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (2018). However, Cuomo appears to be trying a different strategy – that of Donald Trump, who stayed in the 2016 presidential race after several women accused him of sexual misconduct, and in the White House after numerous scandals. Cuomo may also be thinking of Virginia's Governor Ralph Northam: Virtually every leading Democrat urged him to resign when photos showed him in black in 2019, but he remained in office and has since been welcomed back into polite democratic society.
However, Cuomo's political position looks far worse than Trump or Northam's. While some top Republicans occasionally rejected Trump, most of the others stayed loyal to him despite years of scandals, as did the vast majority of GOP voters. But polls already show that a slim majority of Democratic voters in the state say Cuomo should step down.
The Northam scandal did not involve any official wrongdoing, so the impeachment was nowhere. But the leaders of the New York State Assembly, which has the power to initiate impeachment, have stated that they take Cuomo's removal very seriously and hope to achieve it within months.
On Tuesday, August 3, New York Attorney General Letitia James (center) presented the results of an independent investigation into the allegation of sexual harassment by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
David Dee Delgado / Getty Images
Impeachment proceedings in the New York legislature are similar to those of a US president in Congress. The congregation goes first, and there a majority vote is required for impeachment. Then a trial would take place in the state Senate that would require a two-thirds majority to convict Cuomo, remove him from office, and forbid him from holding any future office in the state. (One difference is that the “jury” in this trial consists of 62 state senators plus seven state appeals judges, all appointed by Cuomo.)
Democrats have large majorities in both chambers, so Cuomo's fate will depend on them. As with Trump, Cuomo's greatest hope could be the two-thirds threshold required for a Senate conviction. If he only keeps 24 votes there, he can stay in power.
Still, the Democrats hope to avoid the ugly, lengthy process of impeachment by getting Cuomo to step down. One way to do this would be to make it clear that these Senate votes are not there for him and that the outcome is really inevitable – if indeed it is.
If Cuomo survives impeachment, there will be an election next year
For now, Cuomo still appears ready to run for a fourth term as governor, and no Democrat has challenged him in the June 2022 primaries. So if he can fend off impeachment proceedings – and if, unlikely today, he has another term in the running – the party would face quite a dilemma.
That said, you would need at least one strong challenger to oust Cuomo, but if several enter the race and Cuomo sticks, it can be a challenge for the party to coordinate on an alternative.
According to the New York Times' Katie Glueck, "many Democrats" hope that Attorney General Letitia James, whose office released the report on Cuomo's behavior this week, will run, but it is not clear whether she will. An early unified party backing a challenger would be another way to send Cuomo the message that his time is up.
But Cuomo could count on the fact that he is more in contact with simple party voters than his critics. Glueck writes that he tried "to get in touch with those voters – especially older voters – who could understand his suggestion that many of the allegations of misconduct could be traced back to 'generational or cultural' differences or misunderstandings" . And if it really does come to that, then it really is these voters who make the call.