Asked on Thursday about the new rape allegation against President Donald Trump made by journalist E. Jean Carroll, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hadn’t heard much about it. It was a plausible claim — much of the mainstream media gave the allegation little attention at first.
But her lack of interest in the allegation that the president is a rapist — supported by more than a dozen other women who have accused Trump of similar forms of sexual misconduct — was startling. Even more troubling was her suggestion that Congress would have no role in assessing or responding to such claims. “This is about not what Congress would do — this is about what the president’s own party would do,” she said.
It’s not clear what she actually meant by this claim, though she was obviously trying to avoid responsibility. The most the GOP could do to punish Trump at this point is refuse to re-nominate him for president. But rape is a crime, and Congress is the body empowered to hold a president responsible for crimes, not the Republican party.
Other Democrats offered similarly weak responses to the allegation.
“It’s not particular new news, so I don’t know,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told the Washington Post about Carroll’s claim earlier this week. “I think it stands on its own. . . . I don’t think we need to take action.”
“Allegations of sexual assault against Trump are almost a monthly thing,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) said. “I guess I haven’t thought about it. I don’t know enough about this allegation to have a smart comment on it.”
Of course, Congress could investigate, if it wanted to. There’s nothing that prevents it from investigating past crimes and sexual misconduct, which could be used for blackmail and manipulation — a clear national security issue. It’s debatable whether a president’s crimes committed before taking office could be the grounds for impeachment under the Constitution, but this could be part of what is investigated.
Pelosi and Democrats might reasonably say that they have so much on their plates that they can’t prioritize such an investigation. Indeed, the House speaker did say that she was so focused on working to improve the lives of the migrant kids in the administration’s custody that she hadn’t had time to focus on other things. And multiple committees in the House are already pursuing numerous inquiries about the president and his administration, many of which could plausibly be grounds for impeachment. This dodge, however, is weaker than it otherwise would be because Pelosi has made it clear that she doesn’t intend to pursue a formal impeachment hearing against the president, so there’s little indication he’ll face any consequences for his crimes at this time.
And there’s another, simple step I have long urged Democrats to take that would serve them well in this instance: calling on Trump to resign. Carroll’s allegation is serious and corroborated by friends of hers on the record. It also comes on top of a long list of other women who have related claims, painting the picture of the president as a repeated sexual assailant. And perhaps most damning of all for Trump’s case, the infamous “Access Hollywood” showed him confessing to exactly the kind of sexual assaults that he has been accused of. Such a person should not be representing the United States, should not make decisions about whether people live or die, and should not have the power of the White House behind him.
Of course, calling on Trump to resign won’t actually force him to do it, and it won’t change his behavior. But it would be a signal that Democrats take the allegations and evidence against him seriously and believe they demand a drastic solution. Failing to do so will make any attempts to hold others accountable — in the case that, say, Roy Moore ends up elected to the Senate — much more difficult.