Rep. Chris Collins keeps doing what he’s done for months, going on television to defend Donald Trump no matter what – no matter that a video showed Trump bragging about groping women.
Meantime, Rep. Tom Reed – the uncle of a rape survivor – agonizes, saying he could rescind his Trump endorsement if further revelations surface, but that he would still campaign with Trump if they do not.
In separate interviews Tuesday, Western New York’s two Republican House members could not have reacted much more differently to the video that roiled the presidential race between Trump and the Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Collins was combative, dismissing Trump’s comments in the video as mere words and, like Trump, contrasting them to the actual sexual indiscretions that resulted in the impeachment of Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.
“I was concerned” upon hearing about the video, the Clarence congressman said in a phone interview. “They were inappropriate words, to say the least, and I’ve said that. I needed to hear Donald Trump apologize, and he did.”
Moreover, Collins noted that Trump said he never actually touched a woman the way he described in the video.
“He didn’t do it,” Collins said. “He said he didn’t do it. But we do know that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted women.”
Collins was referring to the allegations of Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state worker who claimed in 1994 that Bill Clinton made an unwanted sexual advance toward her. Clinton ultimately paid $850,000 to settle Jones’ lawsuit against him, but he never admitted guilt.
Collins also mentioned Clinton’s impeachment, which resulted from him lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“Bill Clinton preyed on women for decades with her (Hillary Clinton), frankly, acting as his enabler,” said Collins, dubbing the Democratic nominee “a phony feminist.”
That was just part of a tirade Collins launched against Hillary Clinton – about her role as secretary of state during the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and a host of other instances throughout her career.
“She’s had 30 years of abject failure in every job she’s held,” Collins said. “The country can’t survive four years of Hillary Clinton as president.”
Trump is the “change agent” Washington needs to bring back jobs, to secure America’s borders and to get tough on Russia, Collins said.
Challenged about Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Collins dismissed the question as “a liberal bull--- line,” and threatened to hang up.
“It makes my skin crawl when I hear people say that Donald Trump insulted a Gold Star family, that he’s best friends with Vladimir Putin,” Collins said, referring to the family of the late Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq.
Collins said he has not had talks with the Trump campaign in the wake of The Washington Post story that exposed that 2005 video where Trump spoke crudely about women.
But when asked, Collins went on CNN and the Fox Business Network to defend the candidate after the video surfaced.
Collins did so even though he’s never seen the full video that caused the controversy. Instead, he said he’s heard snippets of it and read full accounts of it in the news media.
Asked why he had not seen the full video, Collins said: “Because I’d rather watch ‘American Pickers,’ ” a reality show on the History Channel that documents the travels of two antique collectors.
That’s Collins’ favorite show, but as for the controversial Trump video, Collins said: “I had no reason to see it.”
In contrast to Collins, Reed was contemplative when asked about the video during a meeting with the Buffalo News editorial board.
“It is something I’m wrestling with, to be perfectly honest,” said Reed, of Corning.
Reed for years has voiced concerns about sexual assault, noting that the issue had affected him personally because a niece of his had been raped.
That being the case, upon hearing the Trump tape, “It’s very hard for me not to have a personal, visceral response to it,” he said.
Reed said he texted Eric Trump, the candidate’s son, after hearing about the tape to express his concerns.
And while Reed said Donald Trump took some good early steps in apologizing for the words on the tape, the congressman remains worried – and willing to rescind his endorsement of Trump if need be.
“There are things that are very troublesome to me as a person, and we’re keeping a close eye on it,” Reed said.
Asked what it would take for him to rescind his endorsement, Reed said: “That’s something I will not speculate on. It’s not appropriate to do that. But I will always reserve the right to express how I feel.”
Like Collins, Reed takes Trump at his word that he never groped a woman.
“Now he says he didn’t do that,” Reed said. “You saw him at the debate. He said no, he didn’t do that. This was talk. So I don’t think we’re talking about sexual assault here in the way some people are portraying it as. Now the rhetoric and the talk is wrong in and of itself. And we were very clear about that and we remain very clear about that.”
Despite Reed’s struggle over the Trump tape, one thing keeps him firmly in the GOP nominee’s camp.
“I’m looking at the choice, and I just cannot support the policies of Hillary Clinton,” Reed said.
He said he was concerned that Clinton’s policies would balloon the national debt.
In fact, Reed’s concerns about Clinton are so strong that he said he would still campaign with Trump if given the chance.
“I think he is the best chance we have to disrupt Washington, D.C.,” he said.
While both Collins and Reed maintained their support of Trump, they also both defended House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who said Monday that he would no longer campaign with Trump.
That prompted a Twitter outburst from Trump that was too much, even, for Collins.
“I’m not sure why Donald Trump is so riled up about that,” Collins said.
Reed said Ryan is doing a very good job, and acknowledged the House speaker had to focus on preserving the Republican House majority.
Reed, meantime, is facing a spirited challenge from Democrat John Plumb and fighting to preserve his seat in Congress.
Asked if voters might look at his comments and speculate that he was trying to have it both ways – to condemn Trump and support him – Reed said his position is nothing unusual.
“I’m just trying to be honest,” he said. “I think a lot of Americans are conflicted with these candidates.”
Reed – who condemned Trump’s comments in a statement on Saturday only to reaffirm his support for the GOP candidate in a statement on Monday – seemed frustrated by the choice the American people face in the November election.
“I’ll be honest with you: 300 million people in America and this is what we’re producing to lead the country?” he said.
“I have some concerns.”