Democratic governors Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York became known as resistors of the Trump administration. Each delivered must-see COVID briefings. Cuomo’s were carried coast-to-coast on cable news, complete with folksy-but-specious quotes and anecdotes about his large Italian family. For California’s governor, #NewsomAtNoon briefly trended.
But now Newsom is facing a potential recall over how he handled the pandemic. Cuomo is coming under fire for allegedly covering up how severe COVID was in New York’s nursing homes. He’s also facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
In response to sexual harassment allegations, New York Attorney General Letitia James is independently investigating Cuomo, who has since announced he will not resign. And this week, he spoke publicly for the first time about the situation.
Philip Bump, national correspondent for the Washington Post, has been looking at the political risks each governor faces.
“He [Cuomo] did what is a familiar dance in these sorts of situations, in which he apologized broadly for the way in which he made his accusers feel, but suggests that he didn't do anything which was inappropriate,” Bump says.
According to Bump, the central question right now is whether more allegations will be revealed. So far, three women have come forward and expressed discomfort over his behavior.
“It's going to be very hard for Cuomo to survive politically, should another or multiple more people step forward and make similar accusations. As it stands, I think it's highly unlikely he’ll have another term in office,” he says.
It’s still unclear how Democrats will publicly react to the accusations, says Bump. “It is not surprising that there is a lot of sort of behind-the-scenes grumbling. There has not been a broad effort, either at the state level or nationally, to call on him to resign yet, which has itself put a lot of other Democrats in a tricky position, given some of their outspokenness on other similar incidents,” he says.
Bump points out that the pandemic suddenly catapulted Cuomo into popularity. He compares it to the surge in popularity of former President George W. Bush following the September 11 attacks.
“It was a very grim few weeks there in March and April. I live in New York, and I can attest to you, it was just constant ambulance noise. And the way in which Cuomo approached the pandemic was one that New York has appreciated,” he says. “New York wasn't hit by the second wave in the way a lot of states were. That then opened the door for Cuomo to get chopped up by the way in which he had approached the pandemic. And I think that's sort of where a lot of the problems start to creep in.”
The effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom
Despite an effort to remove him from office, Bump says Newsom’s approval rating sits above 50%, making him more popular than he was two years ago. But like Cuomo, Newsom is under new scrutiny during this latest stage of the pandemic.
That’s due in part to the public scandal over attending dinner at the French Laundry restaurant in San Francisco.
“It was certainly a bad look, particularly for a politician who was advocating for the sorts of coronavirus restrictions that Newsom was advocating, and he paid a political price for it.”
That incident won’t prompt other Democrats to throw him out of office, Bump notes. The last successful governor recall in California was in 2003, when Governor Gray Davis was narrowly removed from office. Bump says California has changed since then.
“California is, like New York, a very heavily democratic state. And it's important to note that unlike the recall of Gray Davis in 2003, California has broadly approved of the direction in which the state is going,” he says. “There's a massive difference between how Californians viewed the state of California itself in 2003, and how they view it now under Newsom, in addition to the fact that California is a lot bluer now. Both those things suggest Newsom’s probably pretty safe in his job.”
New York doesn’t have a similar type of recall system, Bump explains.
“The very fact that there is this recall mechanism in California, which there isn't in New York, changes the dynamics of the politics … changes the way in which Newsom approaches his job relative to how Cuomo does.”
He continues, “Cuomo is probably going to survive. Again, barring further allegations emerging. But [if he] were in California, the situation might be different. It is also an exploration of the different ways in which states deal with their chief executives, that we end up having these conversations with this sort of nuance.”