Former President Bill Clinton is breaking his silence regarding a much-buzzed-about statement from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who said last fall that he should have resigned from the presidency following revelations about his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton, in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning that’s scheduled to run this weekend, said he disagreed with the lawmaker, arguing that “she’s living in a different context.”
“You have to — really ignore what the context was,” Clinton says. “But, you know, she’s living in a different context. And she did it for different reasons. So I — but I just disagree with her.”
Clinton’s comments not only underscore the shift in the so-called context since the #MeToo movement spurred a reckoning about sexual misconduct, they also point to a deeper existential question that the Democratic Party is wrestling with on the issue.
As the #MeToo movement continues, it’s forcing a reconsideration of incidents like the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and, in doing so, pitting a past standard-bearer of the party against someone who hopes to lead it in the future — forcing Democrats to grapple with two very different images of themselves.
On the one hand, there’s Gillibrand — long thought to be a contender for the presidential nomination in 2020 — who has positioned herself as a strong supporter of women’s rights. She spearheaded the campaign that ultimately led to Al Franken’s resignation from the Senate and has pressed for President Donald Trump to step down after multiple women accused him of sexual assault.
On the other, there’s Clinton — or, more specifically, there’s the question of how the party should reckon with the former president’s legacy given his past actions, and, relatedly, with the broader topic of sexual misconduct. As Vox’s Laura McGann has written, not all Democrats are on the same page, with some still trying to figure out whether holding themselves to a higher standard than Republicans makes political sense.
Gillibrand first ignited the conversation about Clinton’s resignation last November as part of an interview with the New York Times. “Things have changed today, and I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction,” she said. When asked whether Clinton should have stepped down after the Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s, she replied, “Yes, I think that is the appropriate response.”
While this debate may seem like it’s mired in a scandal from the past, it’s a debate that could portend how Democrats approach the issue in the months to come.