Reporters asked President Biden if New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should resign. Biden said “we should wait to see” the results of the investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by Cuomo. Other prominent Democrats say the Governor should resign. (March 15)
ALBANY, N.Y. – As he sought a third term in 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo displayed the support he had among the Democrats’ top names: He brought out Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden to back him at the state convention.
Few Democrats in the country could command such headline-grabbing officials to Hofstra University on Long Island to offer glowing praise of a governor who was clearly en route to a third term.
“Andrew Cuomo has never backed away from his progressive principles. Not once,” Biden implored the crowd in a clear nod to Cuomo over his liberal primary foe Cynthia Nixon.
Now Cuomo may need Biden more than he did on that convention stage, where the two embraced like best friends.
So far, the president has tried to stay clear of getting too deep into the scandals that have engulfed Cuomo’s tenure, urging, as Cuomo has, to let investigations into alleged sexual harassment by governor run their course.
“I think the investigation is underway, and we should see what it brings us,” Biden said Sunday.
So too have House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, other high-profile Cuomo allies.
But how long the White House can stay clear of the fray remains an open question in Albany and in Washington, and if Biden were ask for Cuomo to step aside, privately or publicly, it would put outsized pressure on Cuomo.
So far, even calls for his resignation Friday from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and most of the U.S House delegation from New York haven’t been enough to sway Cuomo, who has vowed to stay in office.
And state Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs on Monday leaned into the comments that Pelosi and the president have backed Cuomo’s urging to let the investigation by Attorney General Tish James and one led by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie proceed before passing judgment.
“Both President Biden and Speaker Pelosi have voiced support for Speaker Heastie’s position that an investigation should precede a determination of the outcome,” Jacobs said.
Questions from the White House persist
Cuomo and Biden have deep ties, back to when Biden was a Delaware senator and Cuomo was helping his father, Mario, as governor in New York.
Biden visited New York on several occasions as vice president and thereafter to support Cuomo’s initiatives, including in 2014 to tout the state’s recovery after Superstorm Sandy.
Two years later, Cuomo got Biden to endorse the state’s push for paid-family leave, which ultimately became law, and also was invited to the groundbreaking of the renovated LaGuardia Airport in Queens — which Biden had previously said looked like was from a third-world country, a comment that stuck with Cuomo.
Last year, amid a crowded presidential primary field, Cuomo was early to essentially back Biden, saying in January 2019: “I think Joe Biden has the best case because he brings the most of the secret ingredient you need to win, which is credibility.”
Now it’s Cuomo who is looking for a dose of credibility with the public and with state and national leaders amid calls the he resign or face impeachment over the alleged sexual misconduct, as well as undercounting COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki is asked almost daily about Cuomo’s standing with the president.
And while she has repeated that Biden believes in letting the investigation proceed, she has increasingly raised concerns about new allegations against Cuomo.
“Well, let me first say that, like everyone who continues to read stories, new developments seem to happen every day,” she said Monday.
“We find them troubling. The President finds them troubling, hard to read. And every woman who steps forward needs to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Ongoing troubles for Cuomo get closer to the White House
Psaki said Monday that Cuomo and Biden have not spoken, but she noted that Cuomo heads the National Governors Association and would likely still be on the regular calls with the White House, including one Tuesday.
“We will continue to work with a range of governors — including Governor Cuomo, who I would expect to join the call tomorrow,” Psaki said Monday. “We’ll leave that up to him.”
The troubles keep coming for Cuomo, though, evidenced by Psaki on Monday also being asked whether the White House was concerned that Cuomo’s vaccination coordinator Larry Schwartz, a loyal Cuomo ally, recently called county leaders to gauge their support for Cuomo.
The calls were panned as being inappropriate as counties rely on the state for vaccine distributions each week that are sent from the federal government.
“Certainly we found them concerning about this inappropriate reported behavior,” Psaki said.
But she said there are a number of checks on the system to ensure the vaccines are distributed fairly. Cuomo’s office and Schwartz said there was no discussion of vaccines on the calls, and one had nothing to do with the other.
And Psaki said there was no immediate concern of vaccines not being allocated properly in New York.
Still, the constant questions of the White House about Cuomo is not good for the governor. Biden and his aides certainly would rather talk about the recently passed stimulus plan, not sexual harassment allegations in New York.
David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, told The New York Times that Biden and Pelosi are probably hoping Cuomo’s fate is resolved through the investigations, “but how tenable that will be over time is very questionable.”
Axelrod might remember a similar situation in 2010.
Then, Obama privately asked then-embattled Gov. David Paterson not to run for election that year amid scandals in his administration. Ultimately, Paterson dropped out, clearing the way for Cuomo to run and win his first of three terms.
Cuomo too has sought to try to move away from the scandals and toward governing, touring vaccination sites in recent days to tout the broadening distribution points and to say he’s focused on getting a budget deal done for the fiscal year that starts April 1.
He has not allowed reporters to attend, though, citing COVID protocols — even at the largest convention center in the country, the Javits Center in midtown Manhattan.
“I’m going to focus on my job because we have real challenges, and people who say avoid distractions, I’m going to avoid distractions,” Cuomo told reporters Friday on a conference call.
“And I’m going to focus on my job.”
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
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