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Sexual harassment earthquake shakes American politics

The allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct have produced a political earthquake that’s shaking Washington.
Image: Al Franken
In this file photo, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) listens to the testimony of Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on 'Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice' on Capital Hill on October 18, 2017 in Washington.Jason Connolly / AFP - Getty Images file

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

WASHINGTON — Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., stepped down from his position as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee; Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., told local reporters that he was “embarrassed and ashamed”; and Republican Roy Moore is on the ropes in Alabama’s Senate race on December 12.

This is how allegations of sexual harassment and, in Alabama, the accusations of preying on underage girls have rocked Washington and American politics. And you can be confident that this is just the beginning — not the end — of these kinds of stories.

As one of us said on “Meet the Press” yesterday: “There are moments in the past half century when, as Americans, we've been forced to reexamine our attitudes and ourselves: Vietnam, Civil Rights, Gay Rights. In politics, we're now facing the crucible of sexual harassment.”

And the moment raises important questions. Should all politicians accused of sexual harassment resign? Or is an apology sufficient? Has our tribal politics infected this story, with Democrats and Republicans defending their own ranks? Is it justifiable to support an accused child molester win a Senate contest to keep the other party from winning it? And what does this entire story say about the current president of the United States, who has been accused of misconduct by more than a dozen women?

Back from the Thanksgiving break, Washington will soon turn to the battles over the GOP’s tax plan, a potential government shutdown and Alabama’s Senate race. But make no mistake: The allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct have produced a political earthquake that’s shaking Washington.

“Political tribalism at its worst”

And you could argue that the political world is having a harder time reacting to this story than Hollywood and the media have. Just hours before Conyers stepped down as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on “Meet the Press” called Conyers as an “icon” and said he deserved due process, later saying: “I believe he will do the right thing.”

Pelosi’s interview disappointed plenty of Democrats and progressives, NBC’s Jonathan Allen writes. "We have no moral high ground against the likes of Roy Moore if we sit by in silence when Al Franken and John Conyers get to sit in their seats," Democratic strategist Lis Smith told Allen. "We can't be the party that says we stand up for women only when it's politically convenient — we have to apply the same standards to ourselves."

Pelosi’s interview, of course, came days after President Trump appeared to defend Roy Moore in Alabama:

NBC's Kristen Welker: "Mr. President, is an accused child molester better than a Democrat? Is it an accused--Trump: Well, he [Moore] denies it. Look, he denies it.

As retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted on Sunday, “After what we know, for Republicans to support Roy Moore over Doug Jones is political tribalism at its worst. We shouldn’t succumb to it.”

The battle over who should head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Speaking of political tribalism, the battle over who should head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is another major story today. “Leandra English, the official elevated to interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by outgoing Director Richard Cordray, an Obama-era appointee, filed suit Sunday against Trump and his pick, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney,” the AP says.

More from the AP: “English cites the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the bureau, saying that as deputy director, she became the acting director under the law when Cordray resigned. She also argues that the federal law that the White House says supports Trump's appointment of Mulvaney doesn't apply when another statute designates a successor. Her suit seeks a temporary restraining order to block Mulvaney from taking over the bureau. Mulvaney has long criticized the bureau as an example of bureaucracy run amok.”

And: “In a statement, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders attributed the suit to politics and referred to an apparent internal bureau memo, in which its top lawyer concluded that Trump could appoint Mulvaney.”

Wouldn’t the Trump administration — at least from a PR standpoint — be on stronger ground here if it nominated a PERMANENT replacement for Cordray instead of a TEMPORARY one? And if that temporary replacement wasn’t already leading an important agency like OMB? And if that replacement hadn’t previously said hostile things about the CFPB?

Alabama Senate race has become a no-win situation for Republicans

Per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard, Republican Roy Moore is expected to return to the campaign trail today for the first time in 11 days. (Sunday marked his 10th day without a public appearance.) A campaign official says Moore will appear at a public event in the evening in Fort Payne, Alabama — no exact guidance has been provided.

But as Republican strategist Scott Jennings told the New York Times, the GOP is in a no-win situation with Moore. “Either we’re saddled with a Democrat in a seat that ought to be Republican,” Jennings said, “or we’re saddled with a brand anvil that’s going to drag down the president, drag down the Senate, drag down the party and plunge the Senate into immediate turmoil when he gets there.”

Emerson Collective TV ad urges Congress to pass DREAM Act

The group Emerson Collective, which is pressing for a national DREAM Act, tells First Read that it’s launching a new six-figure national cable buy urging Congress to protect the hundreds of thousands of DACA beneficiaries living in the United States.

Quoting past American presidents praising immigrants, the TV ad says at the end: "Tell Congress: It's not enough to just say you support DREAMers. Past the DREAM Act. Now."

This cable buy, which airs from November 27-December 1, runs alongside a digital-ad campaign Emerson also is conducting in these 13 states/congressional districts: Sens. Dean Heller (NV), Marco Rubio (FL), Rob Portman (OH) and Orrin Hatch (UT); and Reps. Ed Royce (CA-39), Rep. Steve Knight (CA-25), Rep. Darrell Issa (CA-49), Rep. Mimi Walters (CA-45), Rep. Martha McSally (AZ-2), Rep. Ryan Costello (PA-6), Rep. Leonard Lance (NJ-07), Rep. Pete Sessions (TX-32), Rep. John Culberson (TX-7), Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11), and Rep. Mike Bishop (MI-8). Here’s one of the digital ads.