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Republican Sen. Ben Sasse Offers His Take On The #MeToo Movement

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After Christine Blasey Ford testified that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, President Trump mocked her at a campaign rally earlier this month. Last night on "60 Minutes," the president was asked why he made fun of her.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Had I not made that speech, we would not have won. I was just saying she didn't seem to know anything. And you're trying to destroy a life of a man who has been extraordinary.

CORNISH: Ben Sasse, Republican senator from Nebraska, doesn't accept that.

BEN SASSE: It's divisive, and it was a mistake.

CORNISH: Sasse is a member of the Judiciary Committee and frequent Trump critic. In fact, on the Senate floor the day after that rally, Sasse took issue with the president's behavior while explaining his own concerns about the debate over the nominee. I spoke with Ben Sasse earlier today about political divisiveness. It's the subject of his new book "Them." We started with what happened with the Kavanaugh's hearings and his take on the #MeToo movement.

SASSE: The #MeToo movement is a very important movement. It's messy. And it's complicated. And there are places where it's going to overreach. And we haven't thought through how to process all of the due process issues. But fundamentally, I think we have a culture of sexual assault in this country for decades. We don't have a shared sexual ethic. And the #MeToo movement is very, very important. And we need to handle it with a lot more delicacy than something you can handle well at a campaign rally. So that was an unfortunate move.

CORNISH: But what's your response to many conservative and Republican women out there who have talked about this idea of #HimToo movement - that they're worried about their sons, that, you know, they've kind of moved from one part of the conversation to a part that says men are at a disadvantage here, that there are radical feminist women who are coming after men in your life with false allegations?

SASSE: Well, I mean, it's clearly the case that we need to figure out how - in an American tradition that's always had rights for the accused as well - how we navigate things that are regularly going to be tried in the media. So I think that it is a false choice to divide the world into whether or not we want to love and protect our sons and whether or not we want to protect and trust our daughters. This is a cultural movement and moment that is much bigger than politics.

The #MeToo movement doesn't belong to Republicans or the Democrats. The #MeToo movement belongs to women who are having the courage to come forward and say this is wrong. People should be protected. We want that for all of our daughters and all of our sisters. We also want there to be rights for the accused. And right now, we haven't yet navigated to a place that will hopefully be a lot healthier than where we are now.

CORNISH: In the meantime, we've heard Mitch McConnell and others call #MeToo activists an angry mob. Is that what you see? Is that what you saw in the hallway? And is that how you feel about that activism?

SASSE: I didn't hear Leader McConnell's comments about the #MeToo movement as a mob. I heard Leader McConnell speaking to the fact that there are politicians in American life today who are saying to people, if you differ on a policy issue, you should be hounded out of a restaurant. That's actually happening right now - where you have politicians going to cameras saying, don't let people eat dinner with their kids. That's wrong. Dr. Ford's family and Brett Kavanaugh's family both suffered repeated death threats over the course of the one-month circus that the Senate conducted.

I'm a politician who has to for a time serve in public life, and I get death threats. And it is what it is because you've put yourself out there in the public square. But if you're going to serve on the judiciary, or if you're going to raise allegations about sexual violence in the past, the fact that we don't just have those people suffering death threats - having to move out of their homes - but we also have other politicians calling on people who you might differ with on policy to be hounded out of restaurants, that is mob-like behavior.

CORNISH: What is your response to the activist who says, if you are paid by me, the taxpayer, and I see you in public, it's perfectly fine for me to tell you what I think, and it's perfectly fine for you to be held accountable for policies that are harmful?

SASSE: This is why I wrote "Them" most fundamentally because political tribalism is rampant in our time. There are all sorts of important debates that need to be had inside politics. But the idea that politics should swallow the whole public square - the idea that there is no civil society, that there are no cultural debates, that there are no economic debates, there are no religious institutions, there are no recreational places where our kids play rec sports and youth league - that will not sustain a republic.

CORNISH: That's Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse. We'll hear more about his book elsewhere in the program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.