The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has said Donald Trump, not Harvey Weinstein, inspired the recent and continuing wave of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men in Hollywood, politics and other sections of society.
“Harvey [Weinstein] didn’t evoke this. The election of President Trump evoked what happened to Harvey and now everybody is served notice,” Pelosi told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
Dozens of women have accused Weinstein, a leading Hollywood producer, of sexual harassment, assault or rape. Police are investigating in the US and abroad. Weinstein has denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex.
Trump has been accused by at least 24 women of inappropriate sexual behavior, ranging from harassment to assault. He denies all such accusations. It was, however, his own statements about his own supposed sexual misconduct that rocked his bid for the presidency in October last year.
Weeks before the election, the Washington Post published a tape recorded during a 2005 shoot for the television show Access Hollywood in which Trump said: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it … Grab them by the pussy.”
Trump apologized hours after the tape was released, saying his comments were “locker-room banter”. Recently, the New York Times reported on Saturday, he has told at least two people the tape is not authentic.
The tape, which was recorded the same year Trump told Howard Stern he would walk in dressing rooms at his beauty pageants and look at naked women, did not cost Trump the election. The tape has, however, received renewed attention as politicians in both parties grapple with allegations of sexual misconduct.
Senior Republicans have called on the Alabama judge Roy Moore to step down from the state’s Senate race, in the wake of allegations that he preyed on teenagers. Trump has not followed suit, instead warning voters on Sunday not to vote for Moore’s Democratic challenger, Doug Jones. “Jones would be a disaster!” the president tweeted.
If Moore wins, Republicans will have to consider whether he should be expelled from the Senate because he is accused of child molestation. Moore denies the allegations and has shown no indication he will step down.
Carly Fiorina, formerly the chief executive of Hewlett Packard and a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, said Trump was supporting Moore simply because he “cares about a vote in the Senate – no more, no less”.
Fiorina told Fox News Sunday she and every woman she knew had been a victim of sexual harassment and said both political parties were guilty of responding to accusations in a way that protected their interests.
“Democrats try to defend their own,” she said. “Republicans try to defend their own.”
Pelosi was criticized on Sunday for not taking a strong enough position on accusations made against the 88-year-old Democratic representative John Conyers, who is accused of using taxpayer money to settle cases with women who accused him of sexual misconduct.
Pelosi called Conyers, a liberal heralded for his work in the civil rights movement, an “icon” and said she trusted him to do what was right after the House ethics committee investigates the allegations, which Conyers has denied.
“He has done a great deal to protect women,” Pelosi said.
Conyers, of Michigan, subsequently stepped down as ranking Democrat on the House judiciary committee. “I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House committee on ethics,” he said in a statement.
The Senate ethics committee, meanwhile, is examining allegations against Al Franken, of Minnesota. Four women have accused the Democratic senator and former Saturday Night Live cast member of inappropriate touching.
On Sunday, he told the Minnesota Star Tribune: “I’m embarrassed and ashamed. I’ve let a lot of people down and I’m hoping I can make it up to them and gradually regain their trust.”
When asked whether he expected more women to come forward, Franken said: “If you had asked me two weeks ago: ‘Would any woman say I had treated her with disrespect?’ I would have said no. So this has just caught me by surprise … I certainly hope not.”
Dick Durbin, a Senate Democrat from Illinois, told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday: “Al Franken has acknowledged what he has done is wrong … Let’s have a hearing and an investigation. Let’s let this reach whatever conclusion this is going to reach.”
One of the most prominent figures in US controversy over sexual harassment, meanwhile, questioned whether the government had what it took to reckon with such a widespread problem.
Anita Hill, who in 1991 testified that the now supreme court justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, said people needed to look to leaders in the military, business and universities, not politics, to address the problem of sexual harassment and assault.
“We have made progress, but unfortunately 26 years ago Washington wasn’t ready to lead on this issue, and I’m afraid even today Washington cannot lead the country on this issue,” Hill told NBC.
“There seems to be too many conflicted feelings and understandings about what needs to happen when sexual misconduct occurs.”