White House adviser Kellyanne Conway took credit Thursday for trying to start a national debate about sexual harassment and particularly harassment on Capitol Hill, when she pointed out that she raised the issue more than a year ago.
It’s true. Back in October of 2016, Conway said this to NBC’s Chris Matthews:
“I would talk to some of the members of Congress out there,” she said. “When I was younger and prettier, them rubbing up against girls, sticking their tongues down women’s throats uninvited who didn’t like it.”
The behavior she describes is despicable and it should be addressed seriously. Earlier this week, CNN’s MJ Lee, Sunlen Serfaty, Sara Ganim and Juana Summers filed an eye-opening report about sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.
But back to Conway. Taken in isolation, it’s a laudable thing for her to have done back on October 9, 2016. But her claim completely ignores what was going on a year ago. And given that context – when her boss, Donald Trump, was himself weathering allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior – it’s a really weird time for her to want to re-examine.
Re-examining why she said what she said a year ago only serves to bring Trump’s own treatment of women back under scrutiny and, even more sub rosa, Bill Clinton’s.
Let’s deconstruct what’s going on today, what Conway said, and what was going on then.
What’s going on today? President Trump and White House advisers are unsure how exactly to deal with the ongoing allegations that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore made sexual advances on teenagers – including accusations of assault – when he was in his ‘30s in the 1970s and 1980s. Moore has denied the allegations.
But while most Republicans in Washington have disavowed Moore as the allegations have multiplied, Trump has remained silent. He was in Asia when the story broke. He ignored questions about Moore while trying to tout his just-completed trip in Washington Wednesday.
What did Conway say Thursday?
Asked why Trump hadn’t weighed in on Moore, Conway said this on Fox News Thursday morning:
“Well, the President made a statement when he was in Asia, and he’s been very busy here working on explaining to the country exactly what happened in his Asia trip. You saw that yesterday. He certainly is in touch with the different parties involved here.
“But at the same time, I would like to say that I was the first person in the administration last Thursday when this news broke, I happened to be interviewed on a different network at the time, to come out against conduct as it was described, and I went to step further. I said – and I tried to make this an issue over a year ago on October 9th, 2016, when I talked about maybe when I was younger and prettier, folks on Capitol Hill behaving in such a way that we should take a look at fresh – and I’m so glad that women on the left, particularly on Capitol Hill are now coming forward and now want to have hearings and are swearing under oath and getting people to come forward.
“That’s great. I tried to do it 13 months ago, nobody wanted to listen to me because of the campaign I was managing. This is an important topic but in terms of this particular issue and this particular Senate race, I will not get ahead of the President and anything he wishes to add.”
What was going on on October 9, 2016?
Here’s the context you need to understand the awkwardness of what Conway said today. October 9, 2016, was two days after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape was published by The Washington Post. It was a huge deal at the time, you’ll recall. HUGE. The voice of the Republican presidential nominee, from years before, was being broadcast everywhere talking about how he likes to grab women by the p****.
That kickstarted a full re-examination of Trump’s record with women in the media and it would soon draw Trump accusers into the public eye.
Conway was defending Trump in that same interview as always being a gentleman in her company.
But that’s not all.
She was also trying to help Trump and his campaign make the argument that it was actually the Clintons who did not treat women appropriately. In the same interview, Conway was explaining why the campaign had decided to bring accusers of Bill Clinton into the debate hall to stare down Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate. He had held a news conference with the Clinton accusers earlier in the day.
And Conway’s comments to Matthews were part of her effort immediately after the debate to turn the accusations back on the Clintons.
Trump, by the way, went out of his way to draw those accusations into the debate. Here are two passages from that debate that are worth revisiting.
Asked repeatedly by CNN’s Anderson Cooper whether he had ever actually grabbed women in the way he described, here’s how Trump responded:
COOPER: Just for the record, though, are you saying that what you said on that bus 11 years ago that you did not actually kiss women without consent or grope women without consent?
TRUMP: I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.
COOPER: So, for the record, you’re saying you never did that?
TRUMP: I’ve said things that, frankly, you hear these things I said. And I was embarrassed by it. But I have tremendous respect for women.
COOPER: Have you ever done those things?
TRUMP: And women have respect for me. And I will tell you – No, I have not. And I will tell you that I’m going to make our country safe. We’re going to have borders in our country, which we don’t have now. People are pouring into our country, and they’re coming in from the Middle East and other places.
We’re going to make America safe again. We’re going to make America great again, but we’re going to make America safe again. And we’re going to make America wealthy again, because if you don’t do that, it just – it sounds harsh to say, but we have to build up the wealth of our nation.
COOPER: Thank you, Mr. Trump.
Later, after a question by ABC’s Martha Raddatz, Trump tried to turn the focus on Clinton and mentioned the Bill Clinton accusers he had brought into the hall.
RADDATZ: This tape is generating intense interest. In just 48 hours, it’s become the single most talked about story of the entire 2016 election on Facebook, with millions and millions of people discussing it on the social network. As we said a moment ago, we do want to bring in questions from voters around country via social media, and our first stays on this topic. Jeff from Ohio asks on Facebook, ‘Trump says the campaign has changed him. When did that happen?’ So, Mr. Trump, let me add to that. When you walked off that bus at age 59, were you a different man or did that behavior continue until just recently? And you have two minutes for this.
TRUMP: It was locker room talk, as I told you. That was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I am a person who has great respect for people, for my family, for the people of this country. And certainly, I’m not proud of it. But that was something that happened.
If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words, and his was action. His was what he’s done to women. There’s never been anybody in the history politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women. So you can say any way you want to say it, but Bill Clinton was abusive to women.
Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously.
That’s the full context. Conway made that comment about harassment on Capitol Hill as a way to deflect from the “Access Hollywood” tape, which was a nuclear bombshell during the presidential campaign and as part of the Trump effort to turn women against Hillary Clinton. It’s a reminder of Trump’s own behavior and it makes Conway’s decision to seek credit for raising the issue of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill very strange.
CNN’s David Wright contributed to this report.