ALBANY, NEW YORK - Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called Friday on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign, adding the most powerful Democratic voices yet to calls for the governor to leave office in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and groping.
Both had earlier said an independent investigation into the allegations against Cuomo was essential.
Earlier Friday, Cuomo insisted he would not step down in the wake of sexual harassment allegations and condemned the coalition of Democrats calling for his resignation.
"I'm not going to resign," the third-term Democratic governor said during an afternoon phone call with reporters. "I did not do what has been alleged. Period."
The governor's comments came on the day his party in New York and beyond turned sharply against him following allegations of harassment as well as sweeping criticism of Cuomo for keeping secret how many nursing home residents died of COVID-19 for months.
Cuomo's growing list of detractors now covers every region in the state and the political power centers of New York City and Washington. A majority of Democrats in the state legislature and 21 of the state's 27 U.S. House members have called on him to step down.
The escalating political crisis jeopardizes Cuomo's 2022 reelection in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Republicans across the country have seized on the scandal to try to distract from President Joe Biden's success with the pandemic and challenge his party's well-established advantage with female voters.
Number of critics growing
Hours earlier, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say whether Biden believes Cuomo should resign. She said every woman who has come forth about harassment by the New York governor "deserves to have her voice heard, should be treated with respect and should be able to tell her story."
Dozens of Democrats called on Cuomo to resign this week, but the coalition of critics expanded geographically and politically on Friday to include the likes of New York City progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the leader of the House Democratic campaign arm, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney; and a group of Long Island-based state lawmakers who had been loyal Cuomo allies.
“The victims of sexual assault concern me more than politics or other narrow considerations, and I believe Governor Cuomo must step aside," Maloney said.
Ocasio-Cortez said she believes the women who accused Cuomo of wrongdoing.
“After two accounts of sexual assault, four accounts of harassment, the Attorney General’s investigation finding the Governor’s admin hid nursing home data from the legislature and public, we agree with the 55+ members of the New York State legislature that the Governor must resign,” she tweeted.
In recent days, Cuomo has been calling lawmakers and supporters asking them to refrain from calling for his resignation and instead support the ongoing investigations. His strategy does not appear to be working.
The state Assembly allowed an impeachment investigation into Cuomo on Thursday as lawmakers investigate whether there are grounds for his forcible removal from office.
The firestorm around the governor grew after the Times Union of Albany reported Wednesday that an unidentified aide had claimed Cuomo fondled her at his official residence late last year.
The woman hasn't filed a criminal complaint, but a lawyer for the governor said Thursday that the state reported the allegation to the Albany Police Department after the woman involved declined to do so herself.
Additionally, Cuomo is facing multiple allegations of sexually suggestive remarks and behavior toward women, including female aides. One aide said he asked her if she would ever have sex with an older man. And another aide claimed the governor once kissed her without consent and said governor's aides publicly smeared her after she accused him of sexual harassment.
Cuomo stands firm
The governor on Friday vowed that he'll still be able to govern despite a growing list of New York elected officials who say they've lost faith in him.
Cuomo didn't address the reality of an increasingly untenable position: He's seeking a fourth term next year, managing the state's pandemic response and negotiating a state budget with state lawmakers who've lost confidence in his leadership.
He again raised questions about the motives of women accusing him of inappropriate behavior.
"A lot of people allege a lot of things for a lot of reasons," he said Friday. "I won't speculate about people's possible motives. But I can tell you as a former attorney general who has gone through this situation many times, there are often many motivations for making an allegation. And that is why you need to know the facts before you make a decision."
But dozens of Democrats have already determined the allegations are serious enough to warrant his immediate removal.
Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler, who chairs the powerhouse U.S. House Judiciary Committee, said Cuomo has lost the confidence of New Yorkers.
"The repeated accusations against the governor, and the manner in which he has responded to them, have made it impossible for him to continue to govern at this point," Nadler said.