SUSAN DAVIS: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Susan Davis.
A political storm is brewing in New York. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and fellow New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are joining the growing call for Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign. This comes after multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. Cuomo’s political star was rising for much of the last year for his handling of the pandemic, but this on top of the news of underreporting of nursing home deaths on his watch is bringing his future into question.
Joining me tonight to dig into what this means for Governor Cuomo, three of Washington’s best reporters: Eamon Javers, senior Washington correspondent for CNBC; Toluse Olorunnipa, national political reporter for The Washington Post; and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
Susan, I wonder what you make of Schumer and Gillibrand joining the call. A group of House Democrats had already called for Cuomo to resign. Is it surprising to you that Democrats seem so eager to get him out of office?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, they did wait a while. You know, we had some ranking Democrats especially in the state legislature calling for Cuomo’s resignation already, but I think the pressure on Schumer and Gillibrand became pretty fierce because if you’re going to stand up for the #MeToo movement, if you’re going to say you believe women, if you’re going to say that sexual harassment is unacceptable, I think it became harder for them to try to take a hands-off view on this. Now, of course, it’s not up to them whether Governor Cuomo resigns or not; it’s up to Governor Cuomo. He may choose not to, but certainly this is just about the fiercest pressure you can imagine on a governor to resign in modern times.
MS. DAVIS: Toluse, earlier today, before Schumer made the call, Cuomo said he would not resign. Do you think it’s politically possible for him to hold on?
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA: While it’s definitely possible, it’s difficult for him as he sees his allies one by one decide they are going to say that he should resign. But we have seen Governor Ralph Northam in Virginia, who was under a lot of pressure to resign from the top senators in his – in his state and across the country in the Democratic Party, from a number of top officials, and he decided not to resign, he decided to stick to running his state and doubling down on some of the issues that had been brought up by some of the concerns around racial issues based on the yearbook that had the horrendous photo of a man in blackface and then a Ku Klux Klan costume, but he is still the governor and he was able to continue with his term, and I think some governors and some people in politics who are under pressure look at Ralph Northam and say if he was able to ride it out, if President Trump was able to ride out a number of different scandals by just simply barreling ahead and not resigning and waiting for the news cycle to move on, then maybe they can too. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Governor Cuomo ignores some of these calls for his resignation, tries to at least survive until the investigation pans out, and maybe wait for the news cycle to move on. That seems to be his strongest hope of being able to survive, but right now he is facing a lot of pressure from his own party, including the threat of an impeachment that may take the decision out of his own hands. But he does have at least one person to look at in – as governor down the highway in Virginia, and maybe that’s the plan that he's going to try to follow.
MS. DAVIS: Eamon, these are not normal times. I mean, the state and the country are still facing the pandemic and it raises the question, if he does decide to hang on, how effective can he be managing a crisis if he’s lost the confidence of the people serving him?
EAMON JAVERS: Look, it’s going to be difficult for him no matter what he does from here on out, and what a stunning decline, right? I mean, it was just about a year ago where Andrew Cuomo became the hero of Democrats for sort of being the anti-Trump, holding those regular press briefings about COVID, telling everybody what’s going on, up to and including all sorts of detail about what was going on in his own family. He became famous, he wrote a book about it to capitalize on all that, and now he’s on the brink of political extinction. But I agree with Toluse in the sense that, you know, decades ago this would have been the end, when these big prominent Democrats came out in the five p.m. hour on a Friday night and said he’s got to go; you’d see the guy shuffle off and go. But we’re living in an age of a politics of shamelessness now, and I think that, you know, there is a chance that the governor will just grit his teeth and try to ride this thing out and follow some of the examples that Toluse just gave you. I do think, though, that Donald Trump had a particular genius for riding out scandal by being able to just command the news cycle with all sorts of other things on a fairly regular basis. Not clear that Cuomo has that ability or that particular genius. We’ll see. He can’t just ride it out and sort of hunker down and take all these hits. He’s got to do something to change the narrative, change the page. I’m not sure what that is, but that’s what Donald Trump would do in this situation. And you’ve seen Cuomo behaving here in, ironically, a relatively Trumpian way.
MS. DAVIS: Susan, that’s such a good point that Eamon raises, because past politicians when they had crisis had loyalists, had people behind them, and Cuomo doesn’t seem to have that right now, and I wonder if part of this is his own personality problem. You know, part of the allegations is that he’s a bully, it was a toxic work environment, and that there’s years of grievance among Democrats towards Cuomo. Is it all compounded by his own personality failings?
MS. PAGE: Yeah, well, his personality has contributed to this. You know, for a three-term governor he has apparently not a single friend. There’s not a single voice among a prominent political figure in New York that is standing up for Andrew Cuomo right now. I think the thing that may determine, though, whether he tries to just stick it out is what happens with his public support. Maybe it won’t depend on people like Chuck Schumer. Maybe it will depend on public opinion polling, and does he continue to command enough support among New Yorkers to say: I deserve to still be in office. That was one reason that Donald Trump was able to survive. He had that hardcore support that never left him. Will that turn out to be true for Andrew Cuomo? And that’s a question we don’t know yet. We need to see some polling before we can figure that out.
MS. DAVIS: Yeah, and this goes back to the bigger scandal here. I mean, a lot of the calls to resign have come over the sexual abuse allegations but you have the pandemic crisis as well, Eamon. You’re looking at a governor who was – presented himself as a leader of management, and now may seem to have a pretty serious crisis on his hands. Underreporting the number of deaths in nursing homes, and a pretty terrible personal crisis.
MR. JAVERS: Yeah, absolutely, and the nursing home thing is just so damaging politically, especially in New York which was so badly hit by the pandemic in the early days and we in the rest of the country just watched in horror as New York descended into the COVID crisis, and all of those people in the nursing homes in that state suffering so badly. The politics of that are just atrocious for Governor Cuomo. And the question is, you know, can he offer the voters in New York state, as Susan says, some reason to continue to support him? What else is there?
You know, oftentimes you see politicians turn to culture war arguments or other things. Is that a quiver that – you know, that Cuomo can use here? Is that an arrow in his quiver, or is that something that he’s just past at this point and this is just sort of a slow drip inevitability? I don’t know the answer to that. And it’s going to be up to him if he’s got some kind of third or fourth act here that he can pull off. But it looks really, really grim because of the politics of that nursing home issue.
MS. DAVIS: Toluse, is it fair to cross Cuomo off my 2024 list of potential presidential contenders now?
MR. OLORUNNIPA: Well, 2024 is a long time away. We’ve seen President Trump essentially shrug off a large number of scandals, including the Access Hollywood tape, and still become president. So I wouldn’t rule anything out. But I do think it’s – it’ll be important to see what happens over the coming weeks. We did – we have seen the number of people who have come out to call for his resignation grow. We’ve seen their prominence increase from, you know, state assembly members, to members of Congress, to now the majority leader of the Senate.
I think a big question will be what happens with President Biden. He’s going to be under pressure to weigh in on this. And if you have the current president of your own party essentially calling for you to resign or saying that you do not deserve to run, you know, one of the major Democratic states in the country, it’s going to be much harder for you to get the kind of support you would need to build a presidential campaign. So it doesn’t look too good for him, if he wants to try to build upon his current career and try to run for higher office. It’s already not looking too good for him.
And if President Biden comes out and says something in line with what other prominent Democrats have said, it’s going to be even harder for him to find a way to chart a path to political prominence that would allow him to get to the White House, but we’ll see there. A lot – there’s a lot of time between now and 2024. We’ll see what happens between now and then.
MS. DAVIS: All right, well, I think we’ll leave it there for tonight. Thank you to Eamon, Toluse, and Susan for your insights, and thank you for joining us. Make sure to sign up for our Washington Week newsletter on our website. We’ll give you a behind-the-scenes look into all things Washington. I’m Susan Davis. Good night.