A cynics' history of politicized sex scandals

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On the roster: A cynics’ history of politicized sex scandals - Stage set for Senate tax battle - GOP on track for Alabama defeat - Mueller subpoenas Trump campaign officials - No, it wasn’t an Ikea truck

A CYNICS’ HISTORY OF POLITICIZED SEX SCANDALS
We are daily assured that we are living in a moment unlike any before, this time as it relates to the allegations of sexual impropriety by powerful political figures.

Pffftttttttt…

It hasn’t been 20 years since Washington put the country through a far more dizzying display of hypocrisy, false piety and cynical posturing.

When that one was over, the career casualties included a sitting senator and two speakers of the House, with a presidential impeachment along the way. The scalding stuff of our current moment isn’t even a flickering flame compared to the fire that burned across politics from 1989 to 1999.

There might be some debate over the triggering event for the sex-allegation warfare of the 1990s, but the failed nomination of former Texas Sen. John Tower to serve as Defense secretary in 1989 is a good place to start. 

Senate Democrats shot down Tower’s nomination over his drinking and “womanizing,” which is what people called sexual harassment/assault back in the day. Tower’s response to this was essentially “Duh, I was a senator.” And then “** cough, cough** Ted Kennedy **cough, cough**”

For context: A little more than a decade earlier, when the man who midwifed Medicare in the House, Rep. Wilbur Mills, got caught drunk behind the wheel with his mistress, Argentine stripper Fanne Fox, splashing in the Tidal Basin, it was a matter of titillation. But it was not enough to keep him from getting re-elected a month later with 60 percent of the vote.

But Tower had to withdraw, and a new era of probity was supposedly upon the land. But what had really been proven was that these kinds of charges could get results, even if cynically or hypocritically rendered.

Next up was Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, whom Democratic Senators lit up in 1991 over claims made by a female colleague who described exactly the kind of creepy workplace conduct by bosses that we hear in 10,000 #metoo posts these days: lewd jokes, pressure for dates, etc. Thomas’ nomination survived, barely, but the political weaponization of sexual harassment was just getting started.

FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2012 file photo, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Thomas says the Supreme Court confirmation process is an example of how the nation’s capital is “broken in some ways.” Thomas reflected Oct. 26, 2016, on his 25 years as a justice, at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank where his wife once worked. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Clarence Thomas is an associate justice of the Supreme Court.  (The Associated Press)

Early the next year, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton arrived for the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire with plenty of baggage in tow, most notably, jilted mistress Gennifer Flowers, who sold her story of lust and betrayal. 

Now, under the emerging new rules, this should have been a killer for Clinton. But he, with the help of his wife, Hillary, convinced Democrats that he was a principled feminist who just sometimes couldn’t help himself. They would have occasion to offer this defense in the future…

Hillary and Bill Clinton, The Clintons

Hillary Clinton, far left, and Bill Clinton, right, shake hands with supporters.  (The Associated Press)

Enter Bob Packwood, a moderate Republican senator from Oregon, who combined an enthusiasm for unwanted sexual advances with obsessive diary keeping. Not a very helpful combination for him, as it would turn out.

The story of Packwood’s pervy pentathlon broke just after the 1992 election. Much like the allegations today against Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, the charges against Packwood were referred to the Senate Ethics Committee. 

In this July 12, 2017 file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington.

A woman recently claimed that Sen. Al Franken groped and kissed her in 2006 without her consent.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

But unlike what’s been alleged against Franken, Packwood’s misdeeds took place as a Senator and as part of official business. And after nearly three years, the ethics committee, led by a second termer from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, delivered a deathblow of a report that finally forced Packwood to resign.

mitch mcconnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  (Reuters)

Democrats’ celebration of Packwood’s demise would be short-lived, however. Allegations and rumors of conduct far more gruesome than keeping a mistress had been piling up against then-President Clinton. 

We won’t cover all of the well-known details of what he did and was alleged to have done, including rape and availing himself of a White House intern in the Oval Office. Having been burned three times by sex scandals in just a few years, Republicans were ready to return the favor and impeached Clinton for lying about his misconduct.

The GOP botched the attack and ended up seeing Newt Gingrich, its first House speaker since 1955, forced from office over his own improprieties. Then, in comi-tragic fashion, Gingrich’s designated successor, Bob Livingston, withdrew under threat of having his own extra-marital affair revealed.

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Newt Gingrich served as the 50th Speaker of the House of Representatives.  (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Ten years after the sex wars began, Republicans had taken a worse beating but Democrats had been hurt enough that a truce formed and both sides substantially backed away from the subject… until the summer of 2016.

Democrats seized on multiple, credible charges of sexual misconduct against then-Republican nominee Donald Trump, and in a nice bit of parallelism, Trump was running against Clinton’s wife. 

She had formerly helped destroy the reputations of her husband’s accuser, but in her bid to beat Trump declared that woman claiming to have been victimized by men have “the right to be believed.”

And away we went. Both parties are now trying on for size this new standard of evidence in accusations and are just now being reminded of the atomic power such claims have as political weapons. 

And then as now, there are those who argue that party trumps decency. 

In a WaPo op-ed today, feminist author Kate Harding says that it is imperative that Franken remain in the Senate because Republicans are so much worse. 

“I am a realist who recognizes that we get two viable choices,” she writes. “Democrats are members of the only party positioned to pump the brakes on Republicans’ gleeful race toward Atwoodian dystopia.” 

That last one is a reference to a 1980s novel by Margaret Atwood in which the free women of near-future America become slaves after a fundamentalist Christian sect overthrows the federal government. Subtle, no? Think Ayn Rand for the hardcore feminists.

Harding’s argument is made risible by her concessions that if Franken were to resign, he would not only be replaced by another Democrat and that the seat would still be safe in 2020. Her concern is that future revelations about other Democratic senators, this time from Republican-leaning states, would leave the party at a disadvantage. 

Franken should go on moral grounds, she says, but should remain now because Republicans will not force out their own hypothetical offenders at the same rate. This is the Kobe beef of cynical partisan tribalism.

Harding here is little different than those Republicans who argue that even if Roy Moore has behaved as vilely as he is accused should still be elected to the Senate because he’s better than a Democrat.

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks to supporters, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala. Moore, who took losing stands for the public display of the Ten Commandments and against gay marriage, forced a Senate primary runoff with Sen. Luther Strange, an appointed incumbent backed by both President Donald Trump and heavy investment from establishment Republican forces. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Roy Moore has continually denied the sexual assault allegations against him.  (The Associated Press)

The allegations against Moore – that he used his position as a prosecuting attorney to prowl for high school girls and in at least two cases tried to force sexual contact – are vastly more serious than what’s been said of Franken. But the sentiment is the same: party over people.

These folks sound crass, but really just because they are early. There are plenty of folks still defending Moore and Franken, or at least mitigating the claims against them as fake or exaggerated. But by the end, a considerable number in the “if true” crowd will join the ranks of team “so what.”

As the parties consider the ramifications of finally getting real about the sexual misdeeds of their members, one imagines that it won’t take as long this time to get to the position of tribe over truth.

THE RULEBOOK: BETTER TOGETHER 
“IT IS not a little remarkable that in every case reported by ancient history, in which government has been established with deliberation and consent, the task of framing it has not been committed to an assembly of men, but has been performed by some individual citizen of preeminent wisdom and approved integrity.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 38

TIME OUT: HBD TO A CLASSIC
Smithsonian: “It’s a tradition in many homes on Thanksgiving: marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole. As with everything related to traditions, underneath that sweet exterior there is history. Although it’s true that the modern permutation of this casserole is only a century old, the sweet potato has a much longer history. Here are three things to know about the sweet past of this favorite side dish. Potatoes come from the Americas. Sweet potatoes were a crop that Columbus encountered when he first arrived in the Americas… Candied sweet potatoes… In the United States, sweet potato recipes can be found as far back as 1796, when Amelia Simmons published American Cookery. Then in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as American cookbooks boomed … [most] published a recipe for candied sweet potatoes. … Marshmallow-covered sweet potato casserole is only a thing thanks to Cracker Jacks … For that … you have to look to a company known as Angelus Marshmallows, also the original maker of Cracker Jacks.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -20 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.6 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

STAGE SET FOR SENATE TAX BATTLE
The Hill: “The Senate Finance Committee late Thursday approved the chamber’s GOP tax bill, after the House passed its measure earlier in the day. The panel voted to send the tax plan to the full Senate on a party-line vote of 14-12. ‘For the millions of hard-working Americans who need more money in their pockets and the chance of a better future, help is on the way,’ Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement. ‘When the Senate returns after Thanksgiving, I will bring this must-pass legislation to the floor for further debate and open consideration,’ he said. The bill, as modified by Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) during the four-day markup, would temporarily cut taxes for individuals while permanently slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. It also would repeal ObamaCare’s individual mandate. The individual tax cuts would expire after 2025 in order to comply with a rule that requires the bill to not increase the deficit after 10 years if it is to pass the full Senate on a party-line vote.”

Bill includes break for private jet companies - The Hill: “The latest version of the Senate Republican tax reform bill includes a break for companies that manage private jets. A measure in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would lower taxes on some of the payments made by owners of private aircraft to management companies that help maintain, store and staff those planes for owners. The language would exempt owners or leasers of private aircraft from paying taxes on certain costs related to the upkeep and maintenance of the jets, according to a description from the Joint Committee on Taxation. … The measure is attracting attention following recent controversies involving Cabinet officials’ use of private jets.”

GOP has to face the opposition on business tax - Bloomberg: “The Senate tax plan encountered its first outright Republican opposition this week, from a senator whose concerns might foreshadow the biggest business challenge ahead for the proposal. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin called the plan -- which was approved by the Senate Finance Committee late Thursday – ‘inadequate’ because it would disadvantage many closely held businesses relative to major corporations, or so called C corps. The plan would slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent. But the rate for partnerships, sole proprietorships and other pass-through firms would be set by a formula -- with rates higher than 30 percent for some. ‘I realize we have a problem here,’ Johnson said in an interview. … Until it’s fixed, he said, he’s a ‘no’ vote on the Senate measure.”

Tax plan will give higher taxes to low-income citizens - CNBC: “The Senate’s latest tax plan would lavish billions of dollars in tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans but leave those at the bottom of the income ladder with higher taxes. That’s what the latest estimate shows from the Joint Committee on Taxation, released Thursday as the House was set to vote on a separate version of a tax overhaul. Under the Senate plan, all income groups would get big tax cuts early in the coming decade, according to the committee’s estimates. But by 2021, households making $10,000 to $30,000 would see their taxes go higher than if Congress did nothing.”

Tax plan passage is a big win for Ryan - Politico: “President Donald Trump got a boost Thursday with passage of the House tax bill, but the biggest winner may be Speaker Paul Ryan. Loathed by the Breitbart wing of the Republican Party — which sees Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as Trump’s biggest obstacle to making America great again — the Wisconsin Republican scored a major victory in Thursday’s 227-205 vote to pass a massive tax-cut package that dramatically alters the U.S. tax code.”

Paul Ryan FBN

Paul Ryan.  (The Associated Press)

GOP ON TRACK FOR ALABAMA DEFEAT   
Fox News: “Alabama voters want a candidate who will represent their state with honor -- and they think Doug Jones has strong moral character and Roy Moore doesn’t. That gives the Democrat the lead in the U.S. Senate race. Jones is up by eight points over Moore among Alabama likely voters, 50 percent vs. 42 percent, in a Fox News Poll conducted Monday through Wednesday evenings. His lead is outside the poll’s margin of sampling error (±3.5 percentage points). Nine percent are undecided or plan to vote for someone else. Alabama voters decide who will fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a December 12 special election. Allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore broke November 9. He denies the accusations. Support from women is the key to the Democrat’s advantage in this red state, as Jones is their choice by 26 points (58-32 percent).”

Mistrial a reprieve for Menendez, but clouds linger for re-election - Politico: “The Senate Ethics Committee will resume its investigation into Sen. Bob Menendez, a move that came just hours after a mistrial was announced in the New Jersey Democrat’s bribery and corruption case. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had called for an ethics probe of Menendez as soon as a mistrial was declared by U.S. District Judge William Walls. The deadlock in the criminal proceedings was a huge legal victory for Menendez, who grew emotional as he spoke about the case with reporters. With incoming New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and other top state officials pledging their loyalty to him — and Menendez suddenly looking like an incumbent ready to announce his reelection rather than a criminal defendant trying to avoid prison — the ethics probe means Menendez will still have this case hanging over him well into 2018.”

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez pauses to compose himself before speaking to reporters in front of the courthouse in Newark, N.J., Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.

Sen. Bob Menendez's bribery and corruption trial ended in a mistrial on Thursday.  (The Associated Press/ Seth Wenig)

Wasserman: ‘Ratings changes in seven districts as GOP majority in peril’ - Cook Political Report: “If it wasn’t already clear, last Tuesday’s election results confirmed a political atmosphere that would seriously endanger the House GOP’s majority in 2018. In Virginia, turnout was up 20 percent over 2013 in localities won by Hillary Clinton, compared to 13 percent in localities carried by President Trump. Not only did Democrat Ralph Northam outperform pre-election polls, Democrats shocked by nearly winning control of Virginia’s House of Delegates. In blue-leaning delegate seats, GOP incumbents’ personal appeal failed to insulate them from voters’ anti-Trump mood, even against weak, under-funded and self-described socialist opponents. Republicans held onto just two of their 17 seats in districts Clinton carried, and are headed to a recount in a third. The results suggest Northern Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock (VA-10) is the single most vulnerable GOP incumbent in the country.”

McAuliffe to host fundraising event for DNC - Politico: “Terry McAuliffe is set to host the Democratic National Committee’s major year-end fundraising reception, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO — making the outgoing Virginia governor and former DNC chairman one of the only potential 2020 contenders to raise much-needed funds for the party as it struggles for cash. Appearing with DNC Chair Tom Perez, McAuliffe and his wife, Dorothy, will host donors at their home in McLean, Virginia, on Dec. 14. Tickets to the event are going for up to $33,900 per person. The veteran party operative, fundraiser and Clinton ally is set to leave office in Virginia in early 2018 following last week’s election of his deputy, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, to replace him.”

Messer calling D.C. home complicates Senate campaign - AP: “A campaign stop for Rep. Luke Messer in his bid for Senate involves traveling from his family’s home in suburban Washington back to Indiana, where aides say he typically stays overnight with his mom. Although living outside the state is hardly a first for members of Indiana’s congressional delegation, past elections signal Messer’s address could complicate his plans to win the Republican primary and ultimately unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly next year. Towering figures in Indiana politics, including former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayhand Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, were toppled in recent years after struggling to explain whether they still lived in the state. Others took major steps to head off the issue, including former GOP Sen. Dan Coats, who rented and later purchased a home in Indiana, while selling off one elsewhere.”

First Cruz challenger announces run for Senate - Dallas Star-Telegraph: “Christian TV executive Bruce Jacobson Jr. has made it formal — he will challenge Texas Republican Ted Cruz for his U.S. Senate seat next year. Jacobson, executive producer of James Robison’s ’Life Today’ TV show, said in a video Thursday that he’s ‘ready to serve my state with humility.’ ‘Ronald Reagan was my hero,’ the North Richland Hills man said in the video. ‘He brought honor back to our country, and in my mind, he brought honor to the term politician. Reagan went to Washington to serve, not be served, and he had the ability to draw coalitions together to move forward a conservative agenda.’”

MUELLER SUBPOENAS TRUMP CAMPAIGN OFFICIALS
Fox News: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have subpoenaed the Trump campaign for documents from a number of people as part of his probe of Russian interference in last year’s election campaign, a source with knowledge of the investigation told Fox News late Thursday. The subpoena, which was issued last month, was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The Journal reported that the special counsel’s office is seeking documents and emails from more than a dozen campaign officials that reference certain Russia-related keywords. The paper described it as Mueller’s first official order for the Trump campaign to produce information. The source described the subpoena to Fox as a ‘cleanup operation’ aimed at collecting any missing information and ensuring that Mueller had the same documents as the three congressional committees conducting their own investigations. Separately, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee said earlier Thursday that White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner … hasn’t been fully forthcoming with the panel’s probe into Russian election interference…”

Robert Mueller  Reuters/Larry Downing

Robert Mueller served as the FBI's sixth director.  (Reuters)

Kushner still doesn’t have security clearance - NY Post: “It’s been 10 months since President Trump took office and Jared Kushner is still waiting on his permanent security clearance, according to a report. White House officials and others with knowledge on the matter told Politico on Thursday that the application Kushner filed had not yet been cleared, despite his status as Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser. They said that the 36-year-old will continue to use his interim security clearance for the time being, which is completely valid and allows him to work on foreign policy issues and other highly sensitive matters. … Sources told Politico that the application he filed at the start of the year has been amended multiple times to reflect his contacts with the Russians and other foreign officials, which he reportedly failed to list.”

Trump has begun paying his own legal bills - Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump has started paying his own legal bills related to the Russia probe, rather than charging them to his campaign or the Republican National Committee, and is finalizing a plan to use personal funds to help current and former White House staff with their legal costs. The Office of Government Ethics and a tax firm are working on a mechanism for Trump to contribute to staffers’ legal bills that would meet regulatory and ethical standards, White House lawyer Ty Cobb said in an interview. The White House is hoping the issue will be resolved shortly, said Cobb, who declined to elaborate further on the details of the plan. While there is no law barring a president from giving gifts to those who report to him, Trump’s case raises unique questions about whether his contributions could influence the testimony of staffers, said Walter Shaub…”

Papadopoulos claims phone call and larger campaign role with Trump - Politico: “George Papadopoulos claimed last year that Donald Trump telephoned him to discuss his new position as a foreign policy adviser to his presidential campaign and that the two had at least one personal introductory meeting that the White House has not acknowledged. Papadopoulos also claimed that he’d been given a ‘blank check’ to choose a senior Trump administration job and authorized to represent the candidate in overseas meetings with foreign leaders, and at a campaign event in New York. Papadopoulos made the claims in several interviews with two Greek journalists during and after the 2016 election, one of whom detailed them for POLITICO. They contradict assertions by Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other Trump officials that Papadopoulos was a bit player in the campaign whom they barely remember.”

Russian ambassador doesn’t seem to recall either - The Hill: “Former Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak said he couldn’t name all of the officials connected to President Trump that he’s spoken with or met because ‘the list is so long.’ In an interview with state-owned TV station Russia-1 first reported by CNBC, Kislyak refused to name the Trump officials he’s spoken with. ‘First, I’m never going to do that,’ Kislyak said, according to CNBC. ‘And second, the list is so long that I’m not going to be able to go through it in 20 minutes.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
Senate passes $700 billion defense policy bill - Reuters

Sen. Corker shifts criticism from Trump to Tillerson Politico

White House to ask Congress for more hurricane aid funds - Reuters

No official announcement on potential revision of ban on elephant trophies Reuters

Continetti: ‘The Great American Earthquake: Can the foundations of our society hold?’ Free Beacon

Mulvaney to take on second role, temporarily lead consumer agency - AP

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This weekend Mr. Sunday will sit down with Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

AUDIBLE: CUT. IT. OUT.
“I think you guys overplay all the time, and it gets old. And frankly, you ought to quit it.”– Sen. Orrin Hatch R-Utah in a heated exchange with Sen. Sherrod Brown D-Ohio.

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NO, IT WASN’T AN IKEA TRUCK 
BBC: “Swedish meatballs are always a welcome sight on the dinner table, but less so when 20 [tons] of them block the road in front of you. This is the spectacle that faced unwary drivers on 15 November along the Skara-Lundsbrunn road in southwest Sweden, when icy evening conditions meant that the trailer of a [truck] skidded into a ditch, taking the meatball mountain with it… The [truck] itself remained on the road, but all the meatballs needed to be first offloaded onto the carriageway before the trailer could be hauled out of the ditch. ‘The trailer was heavier than the [truck] itself, and it is very slippery out there,’ police officer Tommy Emriksson told Swedish TV. No one was injured in the accident, and social media users have viewed the incident with humour. Some Twitter users have offered to help the clear-up operation with knife and fork, and one inquired whether a [truck]-load of spaghetti might follow.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.