It’s one of the more unusual presidential debate photos.
Sen. Dick Durbin and Bill Clinton accuser Paula Jones both leaning forward in their seats to hear Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hash it out on the stage in front of them.
Illinois’ senior Democratic senator told the Chicago Sun-Times he was as surprised as anyone that during Sunday’s presidential debate he wound up seated directly behind Jones and other women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misdeeds.
“It’ll be an interesting conversation. I’ll have to explain it to my grandchildren some day,” Durbin said of the photos.
A staunch Hillary Clinton supporter, Durbin had nothing to do with the women sitting so near him at the first presidential debate he has ever attended.
Turns out Rudy Giuliani did.
Minutes before the debate began in St. Louis, Durbin, seated next to his wife Loretta, and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., was shocked to see the former New York City mayor usher in Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Kathy Shelton.
Jones, Broaddrick and Willey have leveled accusations against Bill Clinton. Shelton is a child rape victim whose accused attacker was represented by Hillary Clinton after she was appointed by a judge to defend him.
“All of us were quite surprised when they showed up,” Durbin said.
Durbin said he had joked earlier that the women, who had appeared with Trump at a pre-debate news conference, might fill the empty seats in front of them.
“Then I look up and here comes former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leading a group of women up to our section, and he’s very somber and serious. And he leads them up to this front row and he gets them all seated. I’m assuming it’s the Giuliani family. Well, turns out it wasn’t. It was the accusers who I thought might be coming in,” Durbin said.
As for the photos, Durbin said he knew he’d wind up in some of the same frames as the women: “I realized that, like it or not, I was going to be in some of the camera shots of the evening.”
Durbin said he did not share words with any of the women.
He said the women booed, clapped and talked to each other during the debate. He didn’t see them interact with others in their row, including Trump’s daughter Tiffany.
“They were talking among themselves a lot, and I didn’t try to listen in on that, but they complained about the questions being asked to Donald Trump. And saying ‘That was unfair,'” Durbin said. “It was clear they were Trump supporters and I wasn’t surprised by that at all.”
Frank Fahrenkopf, a former top Republican official who now co-chairs the Commission on Presidential Debates, was seated behind Durbin. Fahrenkopf is credited with thwarting Trump’s plan to have the women sit in Trump’s family VIP box in an elevated area near the stage and in front of the cameras.
Durbin has been a longtime critic of Trump.
With several prominent Republicans denouncing Trump — some even urging him to drop out after the leak of a lewd tape, Durbin warned there will be a “day of reckoning” for Republicans, including Gov. Bruce Rauner, who haven’t publicly opposed him.
Rauner, also the head of the Illinois Republican Party, has on several occasions spoken out about Trump’s rhetoric. He’s also said he won’t endorse him. But he hasn’t said he won’t vote for Trump. It’s viewed as a way for Rauner to not alienate Republicans throughout the state who are voting in targeted legislative races — races in which Rauner has contributed millions in an effort to gain Republican seats in the Illinois Senate and House.
“I think there’s going to be a day of reckoning after this election and a lot of hard questions asked about Republican leaders who did not oppose Trump. I look back and there were some — only a handful, [Gov.] John Kasich of Ohio, two senators that I know of, [Sen. Ben] Sasse of Nebraska and [Sen. Jeff] Flake of Arizona — who never supported him. But most other Republicans have at some point endorsed him and then, you know, as he’s said more outrageous things backed off the endorsement. I could not tell you where Gov. Rauner is today, and there may be Republicans in the future asking that question. Why didn’t you speak out against this man?”
“After this election, the Republicans in America have to decide if they are going to continue to be the party of Donald Trump. And for the sake of our nation, I hope the answer is no,” Durbin said.