TIME ebola

Christie Says Nurse Quarantined for Ebola Can Go Home

Governor had been criticized for quarantine measures

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday that a nurse being quarantined for Ebola despite testing negative for the disease can complete her isolation period at home in Maine, reversing course after his mandated quarantine drew criticism from health officials and a legal threat from the nurse.

Kaci Hickox was being discharged Monday morning, the New Jersey Department of Health said.

“Since testing negative for Ebola on early Saturday morning, the patient being monitored in isolation at University Hospital in Newark has thankfully been symptom free for the last 24 hours,” the department said in a statement. “As a result, and after being evaluated in coordination with the CDC and the treating clinicians at University Hospital, the patient is being discharged.

“Since the patient had direct exposure to individuals suffering from the Ebola Virus in one of the three West African nations, she is subject to a mandatory New Jersey quarantine order,” the department added. “After consulting with her, she has requested transport to Maine, and that transport will be arranged via a private carrier not via mass transit or commercial aircraft. She will remain subject to New Jersey’s mandatory quarantine order while in New Jersey. Health officials in Maine have been notified of her arrangements and will make a determination under their own laws on her treatment when she arrives.”

Hickox had been confined to a tent outside a New Jersey hospital for the past three days, after she returned from a trip to west Africa where she treated Ebola patients. Hickox publicly condemned the state for holding her under conditions that she described as inhumane. She also singled out Christie for blame for overstating her status as “obviously ill” when she had no fever-like symptoms upon landing, and her lawyer threatened to sue.

Christie defended his actions Monday.

“The fact of the matter is we’re going to protect the people of our state,” he told reporters in a video posted to YouTube by his office. “…I’m not going to step away for a minute from protecting the people of my state and our region. So I understand that she didn’t want to be there. She made that very clear from the beginning but my obligation is to all the people of New Jersey and we’re just going to continue to do that. So the critics are the critics no matter what you do there will be critics and you don’t worry that, you worry about doing what’s right for the people you represent and that’s what we’ve done.”

TIME ebola

Governors Spar With Feds on Ebola Quarantine Policy

Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, left, speaks as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie listens at a news conference, Oct. 24, 2014, in New York City Mark Lennihan—AP

Quarantine decision prioritizes politics over policy

The decision to impose a mandatory quarantine in New York and New Jersey for health care workers arriving from Ebola-stricken nations has opened a rift between the Obama Administration and the governors of those states.

Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York on Friday ordered doctors and nurses returning to be isolated for 21 days, the incubation period for the lethal pathogen that has killed nearly 5,000 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. That was just a day after New York City physician Dr. Craig Spencer, who had been volunteering at a Doctors Without Borders clinic for Ebola patients in Guinea, was diagnosed with the virus. He is in isolation at a Manhattan hospital. The first health worker quarantined under the new provision was the nurse Kaci Hickox, who landed at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday and is being monitored at a Newark Hospital. She has tested negative for Ebola.

To the White House, the governors’ decision represents politics trumping public-health policy. With voters spooked by the specter of Ebola and supportive of tougher measures to prevent its spread, Cuomo and Christie say they are trying to assuage panic and protect the citizens of their states. But health officials say that health care workers who follow federal guidelines pose no threat to the public. And they worry that a mandatory quarantine will dissuade desperately needed medical personnel from volunteering to battle the virus at the source of the epidemic in West Africa.

The dispute simmered over the weekend, as Administration officials pressed the states to reverse the decision. “We have let the governors of New York, New Jersey, and others states know that we have concerns with the unintended consequences of policies not grounded in science may have on efforts to combat Ebola at its source in West Africa,” a senior Administration official tells TIME.

Christie and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sparred over the policy on Fox News Sunday. Fauci, a top federal health official, defended the government’s existing protective protocols and argued that a forced quarantine for health care workers who pose a “vanishingly small” risk of transmitting the virus could be a disincentive to volunteers.

“The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those health care workers. So, we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer to go,” Fauci said. “If we don’t have our people volunteering to go over there, then you’re going to have other countries that are not going to do it, and then the epidemic will continue to roar.”

But for the governors, science may be secondary to politics. Polls show that many voters, in the grips of Ebola panic, favor measures to restrict the possible spread of Ebola, even those — like a ban on travel to and from virus-stricken nations — that medical experts say would make things worse.

As a result, Christie and Cuomo stand to benefit from going beyond the safety guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So does Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, an embattled Democrat embroiled in a tough re-election fight, who also ordered a mandatory quarantine of health workers flying into that state.

Like Quinn, Cuomo is up for re-election on Nov. 4. His Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, has sought to harness the panic to gain ground, pummeling Cuomo’s preparation for the virus as “gross negligence.”

Christie is positioning himself for a possible White House run next year, and his advisers believe that his confrontational style of crisis management underscores his appeal to voters. Picking a fight with the feds over Ebola, even when the science doesn’t support his position, may be a way to resurrect the tactics that earned him bipartisan plaudits after Hurricane Sandy.

Appearing on the same program as Fauci, Christie defended the mandatory quarantine. “I don’t believe when you’re dealing with something as serious as this that we can count on a voluntary system,” he said. “The government’s job is to protect the safety and health of our citizens.”

Hickox, the nurse quarantined in New Jersey, wrote an essay for the Dallas Morning News on Saturday that slammed the decision. “We need more health care workers to help fight the epidemic in West Africa,” she wrote. “The U.S. must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity.” She has hired a lawyer, who has been cleared to visit her in the hospital. The American Civil Liberties Union has also inquired about the state’s legal right to quarantine her given her negative Ebola diagnosis.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio called the way that Hickox has been treated “inappropriate.”

— With reporting by Zeke J. Miller

TIME ebola

White House Pressures States to End Ebola Quarantine Orders

Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, left, listens as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie talks at a news conference, Oct. 24, 2014 in New York. Mark Lennihan—AP

One nurse who has no symptoms but has been kept at a New Jersey hospital says she will legally challenge her quarantine

The White House made a push Sunday against a mandate ordered by several states over the last three days that requires all health care workers returning from West Africa who had any contact with Ebola patients to be put in quarantine for 21 days, regardless of symptoms or test results.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced the mandatory quarantine policy, which far exceeds Federal guidelines, on Friday, a day after New York doctor Craig Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola after returning from Guinea, where he contracted the disease. Illinois and Florida have followed suit and put similar policies in place.

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is now levying pressure on both New York and New Jersey to roll back the new rules, after the detainment practice received widespread criticism from the health community.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, denounced the 21-day quarantines on Sunday, saying they are unnecessary and discourage health workers from volunteering to stop the outbreak.

Nurse Kaci Hickox, who was forced into a quarantine facility even after she displayed no symptoms and tested negative for the virus, said Sunday that she was prepared to legally challenge her enforced isolation. Hickox spent time in Sierra Leone and has been kept involuntarily at a New Jersey hospital since she landed in Newark Friday.

“I also want to be treated with compassion and humanity, and I don’t feel I’ve been treated that way in the past three days,” Hickox told CNN on Sunday. “I think this is an extreme that is really unacceptable. I feel like my basic human rights have been violated.”

Ebola is only spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. People with the disease are only at risk of infecting others when they are showing symptoms.

The ACLU said Sunday that Hickox’s quarantine raises “serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers.”

According to Fauci, active self-monitoring is a sufficient alternative to the quarantines policies in place. “If we don’t have our people volunteering to go over there, then you’re going to have other countries that are not going to do it and then the epidemic will continue to roar,” he said. “The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those health care workers so we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer to go.”

In response to criticism, however, Christie said Sunday that he believes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will “eventually come around to our point of view on this.” “I don’t believe, when you’re dealing with something as serious as this, that we can count on a voluntary system,” Christie said.”If anything else, the government’s job is to protect the safety and health of our citizens.”

[NYT]

TIME ebola

Federal Health Official Says Mandatory Quarantines Aren’t Helping Ebola Fight

Anthony Fauci Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a news conference in Maryland on Oct. 24, 2014.
Anthony Fauci Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a news conference in Maryland on Oct. 24, 2014. Bao Dandan—Xinhua Press/Corbis

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie thinks the CDC will eventually side with him

A top health official said Sunday that mandatory quarantines for health workers returning from treating Ebola in West African countries won’t help stop the spread of the disease.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that he does not recommend 21-day quarantines for returning high-risk travelers — like those instituted this week in Illinois, New York and New Jersey — because they discourage volunteers, the Associated Press reports.

“The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those health care workers so we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer to go,” Fauci said.

He also said that active self-monitoring can be just as effective as quarantining, as those infected with Ebola are not contagious until they begin showing symptoms. Ebola is spread through direct contact with body fluids.

“If we don’t have our people volunteering to go over there, then you’re going to have other countries that are not going to do it and then the epidemic will continue to roar,” Fauci said.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended his state’s quarantine policy following Fauci’s criticism, saying that he thinks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will “eventually come around to our point of view on this.” In addition to Fauci’s remarks, Christie has also been criticized by the ACLU, which says the state’s quarantining of a nurse who tested negative for Ebola gives the organization “serious constitutional concerns about the state abusing its powers.”

“I don’t believe, when you’re dealing with something as serious as this, that we can count on a voluntary system,” Christie said of self-monitoring and reporting.”If anything else, the government’s job is to protect the safety and health of our citizens.”

[AP]

TIME ebola

Christie and Cuomo Announce Mandatory Ebola Quarantine

State health department staff will be on the ground at state airports

Healthcare workers returning to New York or New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in West Africa will be placed under a mandatory quarantine, officials announced Friday, one day after a Doctors Without Borders doctor was diagnosed with the virus in New York City. Illinois announced a similar policy Saturday, meaning it will be enforced in states with three of the five airports through which passengers traveling from the Ebola-stricken West African countries must enter the United States.

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement as part of a broader procedural plan to help protect the densely packed, highly populated area from any further spread of the disease.

“Since taking office, I have erred on the side of caution when it comes to the safety and protection of New Yorkers, and the current situation regarding Ebola will be no different,” Gov. Cuomo said. “The steps New York and New Jersey are taking today will strengthen our safeguards to protect our residents against this disease and help ensure those that may be infected by Ebola are treated with the highest precautions.”

New York and New Jersey state health department staff will be present on the ground at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey. In addition to implementing the mandatory quarantine of health care workers and others who had direct contact with Ebola patients, health department officials in each state will determine whether others should travelers should be hospitalized or quarantined.

The announcements mark a dramatic escalation in measures designed to prevent the spread of Ebola in the United States. Previously, only individuals with symptoms of Ebola would be quarantined upon entry to the U.S. under a federal rule from the Centers for Diseases Control and the Department of Homeland Security.

TIME 2016 Election

Christie Offers Democrats A Killer Soundbite on Minimum Wage

Faith And Freedom Coalition Holds Policy Conference
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' Policy Conference at the Omni Shoreham hotel on June 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It's not what he said. It's how it will sound when edited.

The journalist Michael Kinsley observed that “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s sin Tuesday provided a modern corollary.

Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Christie seemed to invite the controversy by saying, “I gotta tell you the truth, I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage, I really am.”

On Twitter, Democrats instantly seized on the quote fragment. The Democratic National Committee and Democratic Governors Association swiftly blasted out statements in condemnation, as opposition research group American Bridge posted it to YouTube. “Our hearts are breaking,” said DNC Press Secretary Mike Czin in a statement. “Poor guy. It must be almost as tiring for him as it is for the millions of Americans who work full time but live in poverty because the minimum wage is too low.”

In proper context, Christie’s statement fit within the Republican Party’s longstanding position on the minimum wage: He argued the focus should be on creating minimum wage jobs, not raising the pay scale for the least-paid. “I don’t think there’s a mother or father sitting around a kitchen table tonight in America who are saying, ‘You know honey, if my son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all our dreams would be realized,” Christie said. “Is that what parents aspire to for their children?”

But that more nuanced argument is not something most voters will hear this fall—or when Christie mounts a likely bid for the White House in 2016. Instead they are likely to hear “I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage,” over and over and over again thanks to his Democratic foes, especially if Christie becomes the Republican Party’s nominee.

The moment was not unlike Mitt Romney’s 2012 line that “I like being able to fire people” when they do poor work—a tenet of the free market, but an statement that played into the insensitive rich guy narrative Democrats and his GOP primary opponents had already invested millions in developing.

In the modern campaign, where every public or private utterance is liable to be recorded or tweeted by a reporter or opposing tracker, Christie’s unforced error Tuesday wasn’t saying something wrong. It was saying something that could be edited to sound like something else entirely.

TIME Republican Party

GOP Candidates May Benefit From Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Decision

Supreme Court Gay Marriage
Demonstrators in support of same sex marriage stand during the second annual "March for Marriage" in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington on June 19, 2014. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

Some strategists hope the legal decision helps push the issue of gay marriage off the political agenda

The Supreme Court’s decision Monday clearing the way for same-sex marriages in five states may benefit an unlikely group: Republican lawmakers who can’t wait to stop talking about gay marriage, an issue that is increasingly becoming a drag for the party.

Advisors to multiple likely 2016 candidates told TIME after the news broke that they are hopeful that swift action by the Supreme Court will provide them cover. “We don’t have to agree with the decision, but as long as we’re not against it we should be okay,” said one aide to a 2016 contender who declined to be named to speak candidly on the sensitive topic. “The base, meanwhile, will focus its anger on the Court, and not on us.”

The initial comments of politicians also hinted at a desire to turn the page. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 contender locked in a tough re-election fight this fall, told the Associated Press that the fight to prevent same-sex marriage would end. “It’s over in Wisconsin,” he said.

“The federal courts have ruled that this decision by this court of appeals decision is the law of the land and we will be upholding it,” Walker added, echoing the statement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who called the issue “settled” in his state over the summer, despite his personal opposition to such unions. Christie declined to address the decision when asked about it Monday.

At a forum in Washington, D.C., Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is also considering a run for the White House, said the issue was moving out of the political sphere. “The law is certainly in the Court’s court,” Jindal said. Neither man said the court ruling had dented their own opposition to same sex marriage, but their statements indicated they hope to set the issue aside as they eye bids for the White House.

Wary of this possibility, evangelical leaders vowed election year fights. “For candidates running in 2014 and those who run for president in 2016, there will be no avoiding this issue,” said the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Ralph Reed in a statement after the Supreme Court ruling. Yet many in the party are preparing to do just that.

“The GOP is a culturally conservative party and should remain so,” said Alex Castellanos, one of the dozens of GOP political operatives to sign on to an amicus curiae brief against the Defense of Marriage Act last year. “Increasingly, there is less room in the GOP for ‘big-government’ social conservatives, i.e., social conservatives who believe in using the power of the state to tell people whom they can love or marry. Instead, there is growing agreement, in an ever younger and increasingly libertarian Republican party, that the role of the state in prohibiting relationships should be minimized.”

In the decision Monday, the high court declined to hear challenges to appellate court rulings that five state same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, effectively approving the rulings and erecting a legal barrier to states seeking to prevent the practice from taking hold. The decision is the latest step in a whirlwind legal push in support of same-sex marriages that has the backing of the majority of the national electorate, but has polarized the GOP.

Fifty-five percent of all Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, including 30% of self-identified Republicans and 31% of self-identified conservatives. But the issue is far more pronounced among younger voters, for whom it is more likely to be a threshold issue: 78% support same-sex marriage according to a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year.

Over the summer the Republican National Committee took control of the primary debate process with the expressed goal of reducing their focus on social issues, in hopes of keeping the eventual nominee from emerging from the primary process as unelectable to the national public.

Evangelical conservative leaders are likely to call upon Republican candidates to support a federal “marriage amendment” to prohibit same-sex coupling. Such an effort has the backing of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is preparing to mount another campaign for the White House, and has been backed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. An aide to Jindal said Monday he remains supportive of efforts to pass a federal marriage amendment. But few, if any, of its proponents, believe it can be passed in practice, given Constitutional requirement that two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states’ legislatures.

Sen. Ted Cruz announced Monday he would introduce a Constitutional amendment preventing the Supreme Court from striking down marriage laws. “The Supreme Court’s decision to let rulings by lower court judges stand that redefine marriage is both tragic and indefensible,” he said in a statement, declaring the Court’s decision not to hear arguments on the gay marriage cases “judicial activism at its worst.”

Keith Appell, a Republican political consultant working with many social conservative groups, predicted that Republicans will turn the debate to focus on the judicial appointments likely to open up under the next president. “Filling those vacancies will shape the court for the next generation and it’ll be a huge issue in both the primaries and the general election,” he said. “Do we want activist judges who literally make the law up from the bench and impose it on the people, as is happening with these appellate rulings? Or do we want judges that fairly apply the law and leave the lawmaking to Congress, state and local legislatures?”

TIME 2016 Election

Romney Says Chance He Runs In 2016 Is ‘One Of A Million’

NBC

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Tuesday put the odds of his mounting a third bid for the White House at “one of a million.”

The former Massachusetts governor told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he did not think he is well positioned to take on the expected Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and referenced this famous scene from 1994′s Dumb and Dumber when pressed.

“Well, you know, let’s say all the guys that were running all came together and said, ‘Hey, we’ve decided we can’t do it, you must do it,’” Romney said. “That’s the one of the million we’re thinking about.”

“I just want to confirm you’re telling me that we’ve got a chance there,” Hewitt asked. “The Dumb and Dumber, one of a million,” Romney replied.

Some in the Republican establishment have called on Romney to mount a repeat candidacy, arguing that the GOP needs an established figure to take on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Backers have pointed to recent polls which give Romney an edge over Obama were the 2012 election to be repeated today. Supporters have also cited foreign policy developments that they argue vindicate Romney’s mocked-at-the-time warnings about Russia and China.

“The reason I came to the conclusion I did, which is this is not the right time for me to run, is because of my belief that someone else stands a better chance of winning than I do,” Romney said. “Had that not been the case, had I believed I would actually be best positioned to beat Hillary Clinton, then I would be running. But I actually believe that someone new that is not defined yet–someone who perhaps is from the next generation–will be able to catch fire, potentially, build a movement, and be able to beat Hillary Clinton.”

Romney has raised eyebrows with a nationwide travel and fundraising schedule on behalf of Republicans this fall, an effort Romney confidants say was born out of his desire to thank Republicans for supporting him in 2012–not in an attempt to earn their backing for 2016. Romney’s 2012 running-mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, told Hewitt in an interview Monday that he would welcome a repeat bid by Romney.

Romney said he would “hope” that he’d be a better candidate if he ran a third time. “But at the same time, there are people who are not yet known by the American public who have extraordinary records, great capability, Paul Ryan being one of them, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio,” he said, listing off some of the Republicans known to be mulling 2016 White House bids. “Of course, people are getting to know Chris Christie. Jeb Bush, they don’t know Jeb Bush as the governor of Florida, and the kind of record he has and had there.”

Romney left Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul off his list of strong contenders, going on to say that he disagrees with those in his party who are pushing for the United States to disengage from the world. Romney pledged he would “continue to speak out on issues of significance as I see them, and hopefully be able to convince the people who are running from our party to adopt policies that encompass foreign policy and keeping America safe.”

In the interview, Romney also said he would be uninterested in serving as the running-mate for the eventual GOP nominee. “I would always be happy to serve my country in any way that I was called upon to do,” Romney said. “But that’s not a job I would seek. I was seeking the presidency, not the vice presidency.”

Listen to the interview here.

TIME New Jersey

Watch Chris Christie Get Totally Defensive About Being Friends With Bruce Springsteen

Chris + Bruce 4Ever

Correction applied Wednesday, August 20

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie lost his cool Tuesday after a state resident suggested that the Bruce Springsteen superfan might not be in the Boss’s good graces.

After being asked about a rumor that Springsteen had requested Christie stop using his music at his rallies (a rumor that has not been substantiated), Christie totally freaked, as seen in this video from NJ.com.

“No. Never did that. No, you’re wrong about that,” Christie said. “Bruce has never asked me to do that. He never has. You’re wrong.”

The New Jersey resident then asked about whether he had been dancing with Bon Jovi in the Hamptons, prompting Christie to remind her that he has many celebrity friends besides Springsteen.

“I wasn’t dancing with Bon Jovi, actually, I was dancing with Jamie Foxx,” he said. “So if you’re gonna be cute, we should get the story right.”

But of all his famous friends, the Boss is Christie’s BFF. In fact, they hung out just recently!

“I saw Bruce about a week and a half ago,” Christie said. “And he had every opportunity to tell me not to, he didn’t, and he never has told me not to. Listen, I know him and you’re wrong. I know Bruce, and I’ve spoken to Bruce, and you’re wrong.”

The governor appeared furious at the insinuation that he and Bruce were on the outs, although he did not provide any proof of their friendship, such as letters from camp, friendship bracelets, or selfies. He ended by telling the female journalist, who seemed very calm, to calm down.

“When I leave, just so we can have this lady be a little calmer, let’s play Bon Jovi on the way out,” he said, adding: “If you want to debate, run for governor and I’ll debate you.”

Correction: The original version of the story incorrectly described the woman who confronted Christie. She was a New Jersey resident.

[NJ.com]

TIME Opinion

Why Troubled Politicians Blame Women Even When It’s Not a Sex Scandal

Former Virginia Gov. McDonnell And Wife Appear In Court For Federal Corruption Case
Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen leave the court in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 24, 2014 Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The trial of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell shows that it's convenient to have a female scapegoat

Updated Aug. 20, 10:10 a.m. E.T.

Men have been blaming their screwups on women ever since the Garden of Eden. Because Adam totally didn’t mean to eat that apple! He only did it because that crazy Eve chick tricked him into it. She must have had a crush on the snake.

This week, former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s defense team started bringing witnesses to testify about Maureen McDonnell’s craziness and the former governor’s saintliness. The couple is facing federal corruption charges related to luxury gifts and loans they accepted from a political donor. The defense strategy so far has been to pin the blame for the whole mess on the ex-governor’s wife, saying she had a “crush” on big donor Jonnie Williams, but wasn’t a public official herself so lavish presents to her don’t count as corruption.

Williams, who testified for federal prosecutors under a generous immunity deal, denied any romantic intrigue with Mrs. McDonnell, saying his relationship with the family was a business transaction to help sell health supplements through his company, Star Scientific. “I thought the governor could help bring this product to the marketplace, and it was not the right thing to do,” he testified.

But the defense is arguing that the governor didn’t have anything to do with the $165,000 in cash and gifts that Williams gave him over a two-year period, it was just little ol’ Maureen being a silly woman in love. Love makes women dumb, right?

Longtime McDonnell aide Janet Vestal Kelly testified for the defense on Monday, calling the former governor “Mr. Honest,” but said his wife was “divaish” and “pathologically incapable of taking any responsibility.” She explained that it was “well known” that Maureen McDonnell would “hide things,” and that she seemed “kind of flirty” with Williams. Kelly said she didn’t want to “pile on” the former Virginia first lady, but that her staff even worried that Maureen McDonnell might be mentally ill and they once staged a mutiny because she was so difficult to work for. The defense also presented a letter signed by Maureen McDonnell’s staff detailing the “worst kind of bullying.” And on Tuesday, Maureen McDonnell’s sister-in-law, also named Maureen McDonnell, testified that she was “very manipulative, very unpredictable and very deceptive.” Suddenly, it’s the first lady’s personality that’s on trial, not her husband’s role as an elected official.

It’s possible that Maureen McDonnell, the former governor’s wife, is the lovesick crazy woman the defense team is making her out to be (she did text Williams: “I just felt the earth move, and I wasn’t having sex” after an earthquake.) But it’s also possible this is an elaborate ruse to blame the wife in order to get both McDonnells out of some serious prison time. (They face 14 counts of public corruption, obstruction of justice and lying on financial documents.) This could be a clever experiment in political alchemy: by transforming a corruption scandal into a sex scandal, it puts the focus on the woman’s behavior instead of the money trail. And it makes sense: sex scandals are easier for the public to understand, and blaming the woman tends to take some of the heat off the man — just ask Paula Broadwell or Rielle Hunter.

But now “blaming the woman” (or using a woman’s behavior to distract pesky critics and prosecutors) is becoming a catchall strategy for exonerating male politicians from calamities that might not have much to do with sex at all. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he was “blindsided” by the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge closures in Fort Lee, N.J., which he says was orchestrated by his aide Bridget Anne Kelly (who was later publicly shamed for a “personal relationship” she had with another staff member). Chinese politician Bo Xilai last year blamed his “crazy” wife for embezzling government money and taking bribes (she was convicted in 2012 of murdering a British business associate). Newt Gingrich staffers blamed the collapse of his 2011 presidential campaign on a takeover by his wife Callista. And former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens blamed the $250,000 worth of home renovations from a wealthy oil contractor that led to federal corruption charges in 2008 on his wife Catherine (an investigation later found that prosecutors withheld evidence that would have helped Stevens, who lost his Senate seat and then died in a 2010 plane crash). None of these were explicitly sex scandals, but they were still spun as the woman’s fault.

Of course, the woman isn’t always blameless — for Stevens, at least, there might have been some truth to his claim that his wife paid the renovation bills and he might not have known about the thousands of dollars worth of gifts. And it’s possible that Maureen McDonnell did accept Williams’ money without her husband’s knowledge (although this picture of the governor driving Williams’ car makes that seem unlikely). Some lawyers say Bob McDonnell’s “crush” defense is so nutty it just might work, others say it could be the truth. But it’s still a mighty convenient tactic, and it’s not just used by men; Hillary Clinton was all too willing to blame Monica Lewinsky for the affair with Bill, even though Lewinsky was a young, inexperienced intern and Bill Clinton was the President of the United States.

The trend could be an unfortunate by-product of women’s rights: as women are seen as increasingly capable of succeeding, they’re also seen as increasingly capable of screwing up. For example, Mary Todd Lincoln was famous for overspending on White House decorations and falsifying spending records, but Lincoln didn’t try to blame any of his political woes on her (then again Honest Abe had bigger fish to fry).

There’s an old saying that says, “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman.” These days, it seems the inverse is also true: in front of every embarrassed man is an embarrassing woman.

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