The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Latest sexual assault allegation against Trump draws muted political reaction

E. Jean Carroll at her home in Warwick, NY, on Friday. (Eva Deitch/for The Washington Post)

The news that another woman had accused President Trump of sexual assault landed with barely a political whimper.

When the allegation by magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll emerged Friday afternoon, there was little response from Capitol Hill, as senators were gone for the weekend and members of the House were rushing through votes so they could leave town. On the presidential campaign trail, Democratic candidates did not raise the topic as they spent the weekend wooing voters in South Carolina and preparing for the first debates.

The muted reaction to the claim by Carroll, who said Trump attacked her in a dressing room more than two decades ago, reflected a sense among resigned Democrats that the president will never face serious political damage from accusations of sexual misconduct, which 16 women have now made .

“There’s so many allegations of sexual harassment and other things on this president. I wouldn’t dismiss it, but let’s be honest, he’s going to deny it and little is going to come of it,” said Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate.

Republicans remained largely silent about Carroll’s allegation. The one political figure who has brought the most attention to her story is Trump, who has denied it, saying she was “not my type.”

Trump says latest accuser, E. Jean Carroll, is ‘totally lying’ and ‘not my type’

When asked Tuesday whether Trump’s response was appropriate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) replied, “I don’t have any comments about that.”

The sheer number of similar claims made against Trump may be contributing to the numb response, said David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama

“I would hate to think that we are inured to such things,” Axelrod said. “But there is a dismal familiarity to these stories by now, as well as the president’s denials.”

Carroll first made the allegation in a book excerpt published Friday by New York magazine and recounted the details in interviews with The Washington Post and other news organizations.

During a chance encounter at a Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York in late 1995 or early 1996, she said, the then-real estate developer attacked her in a dressing room. Carroll said he knocked her head against a wall, pulled down her tights and briefly penetrated her before she pushed him off and ran out. She said she described the episode shortly afterward to two friends, who both spoke to The Post and confirmed her account.

Trump said Monday that she was “totally lying.” He has said he never met Carroll, although a photo shows them together at a party a decade earlier.

“People have to be careful because they are playing with very dangerous territory,” the president told reporters Saturday.

On Capitol Hill this week, Republican lawmakers sought to deflect questions about Carroll’s allegation.

Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.) said he had no comment. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) pleaded ignorance. “I honestly have been reading on policies, I just don’t know about the case,” Rubio said. “You’re asking me about a story I’ve never even read.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa), who has spoken publicly of being raped when she was in college, said that “it’s important any types of allegations like this are taken seriously, but they do have to be properly vetted.”

“We have to find out — are these accusations, is there a grave truth, is there not?” she added. “I don’t know that at this point.”

Magazine columnist accuses Trump of sexual assault more than two decades ago, an allegation he denies

Even Democrats — who expended considerable political capital trying to stop the confirmation of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court last year after he was accused of sexual assault as teenager — seem to have little appetite to take up the issue.

“It’s not particular new news, so I don’t know,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.). “I think it stands on its own. . . . I don’t think we need to take action.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said Tuesday that he thinks “every allegation like this should be taken seriously” and that he believes Carroll is “credible.”

Rep. Jim Himes (Conn.), who came out this week in favor of an impeachment inquiry, chuckled and sighed when asked whether Congress should investigate Carroll’s allegation.

“Allegations of sexual assault against Trump are almost a monthly thing,” Himes said. “I guess I haven’t thought about it. I don’t know enough about this allegation to have a smart comment on it.”

Said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.): “This unfortunately does not surprise me, given his past behavior.”

Democratic presidential candidates shared the same weary reaction.

“We know Donald Trump’s character and it’s revealed every single day,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), shaking her head Saturday at a campaign event in Columbia, S.C. “There aren’t any real surprises here other than the details.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), who has made sexual assault awareness a cornerstone of her campaign, waited four days before speaking out about Carroll’s allegation.

“This president’s misogyny is disqualifying. Women deserve better,” she tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “I believe E. Jean.”

David Weigel in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.