WASHINGTON — Democratic women in Congress took President Trump to task Saturday for defending those accused of abuse, but not mentioning the victims who have endured violence.
“What about the women? …Their lives have been scarred forever,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who helps lead an effort to address sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, told USA TODAY. “Or the fact that domestic violence has no place in our society and no place in the White House. That should have been the statement.”
Trump came under fire for praising the work of ousted staff secretary Rob Porter, who was accused by his two ex-wives of domestic violence. Trump said Friday he was surprised by the allegations, but noted that Porter said he was innocent. Trump didn’t mention the ex-wives or their allegations against Porter.
“We absolutely wish him well, he did a very good job when he was at the White House,” Trump said. The abuse claims were first reported in a British tabloid, The Daily Mail. And Porter was forced to resign Wednesday.
Trump ramped up his defense Saturday when he tweeted that lives are being destroyed by a “mere allegation” and questioned whether there is still due process. He didn’t mention Porter by name.
David Sorenson, a White House speechwriter, also resigned over domestic abuse allegations this week. He has denied his wife’s claims.
Trump’s comments come on the heels of the #MeToo movement, which gained traction in 2017 as a hashtag on Twitter to help women tell their stories about sexual violence and support others who have experienced abuse.
The firestorm also comes in the wake of congressional efforts to address sexual harassment and assault on Capitol Hill, including the House passing a bill last week that would require members to pay settlements for claims rather than taxpayers.
Speier feels Trump’s lack of defense of victims runs contrary to the momentum behind more people speaking out against violence against women.
“You have all of these seeds that have been germinating for a long time … and have sprouted to the surface so they’re in full bloom now,” she said of the Women’s March, #MeToo campaign, and the downfall of some high-profile men accused of sexual misconduct.
“His tweets kind of turn my stomach,” she added. “(Trump) appears to have utter contempt for women.”
Democratic leader Patty Murray of Washington echoed Speier’s concerns.
“Women’s lives are upended every day by sexual violence and harassment,” she tweeted Saturday morning. “I’m going to keep standing with them, and trusting them, even if the President won’t.”
Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, chairwoman of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, posted on Facebook on Friday that White House staff should be held to the highest ethical standards. She blasted Trump for not vetting Porter and chief of staff John Kelly for not acting when he learned of the charges against Porter.
“This blatant denial of any wrongdoing is unacceptable,” she posted. “These women deserve to be heard — not silenced and waved away!”
One of Porter’s ex-wives produced photos of a black eye she said Porter gave her while in Italy. In a written statement sent through the White House press office Wednesday, Porter said he took those photos, but that “the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” he said. He did not elaborate.
Rep. Robin Kelly, a Democrat from Illinois and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, said the black eye is proof enough of domestic violence.
“The President’s tweet once again shows that he’s unwilling to stand up for victims and instead more than willing to stand up for abusers,” Kelly said Saturday in an email to USA TODAY. “Those that have been victimized need to know that they can speak up and get justice rather than be doubted. The President is quick to doubt and slow on compassion.” Kelly lost a cousin to domestic violence.
Republicans largely stayed quiet Saturday on social media and some declined to comment on the president’s tweet.
Speier, who praised the bipartisan effort to act quickly on sexual harassment, said she’s disappointed her Republican colleagues haven’t spoken out against Trump’s comments.
“Seems like there’s a deafening silence,” she said. “Where are the voices of my Republican colleagues? … You can’t be an apologist for the president on this issue.’’
Vice President Pence said Friday after Porter’s resignation that the Trump administration has “no tolerance” for domestic abuse. In an interview with NBC News, “There’s no tolerance in this White House, and no place in America for domestic abuse.”
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence called Trump’s remarks “dangerous” on its blog Friday, saying it sends a message that abusers will be believed over victims.
“The Trump Administration continues to ignore opportunities to take a public stance against domestic violence,’’ the group posted.