A Republican Congressman is pushing legislation that would give the president power to revoke Bill Cosby's Presidential Medal of Freedom, based on the allegations that the comedian is a serial rapist and his own admission that he gave women drugs to have sex with them.
And in a Congress in which the two sides of the aisles agree on almost nothing, Democrats have joined in.
There has never been a case in which the highest civilian honor has been taken back, but Arizona Representative Paul Gosar is introducing a bill today that would give the president that very authority. The measure would also make it a crime for someone to display the award after it has been revoked.
"I am sick and tired of watching the rapid decline of our culture right in front of our eyes," Gosar told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. "It's time to reclaim our nation's moral compass."
Gosar's decision to draft the legislation, which his office has reportedly been working on since this past summer, was motivated by Cosby's own admission during a deposition that he gave women Quaaludes, a powerful sedative drug, in order to have sex with them. Cosby testified under oath in 2005 but the documents from that deposition were made public in July.
Over the past year, more than 50 women have come forward saying that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them. Most of the statutes of limitations in these accusations have expired, except in one case, which resulted in Cosby's being charged with a felony this past December.
The legislation is "an important step, a step that's rightfully there based on his own admission," Gosar said yesterday. "Under his own words, in a sworn deposition, he admitted to giving Quaaludes for this very purpose. The justice system will take care of the accusations. However, under his own words this is not something that can be tolerated for the highest medal for a civilian because those actions transcend this award."
Cosby has successfully united both political parties against him. Gosar said yesterday that six Republicans have agreed to cosponsor his bill and he expects more from across the aisle, reported the Huffington Post. Several prominent politicians have also called for Cosby's award to be removed.
A spokesperson for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, told Politico in July that she believes that "someone who admitted to using drugs for sex no longer deserves the nation's highest honor."
Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill also agrees with taking away Cosby's honor. "I don't think that somebody who has admitted to doing that deserves a medal of any kind," she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He probably deserves to go to prison."
Both McCaskill and Gillibrand signed a petition calling on the White House to revoke Cosby's medal. The nonprofit organization PAVE (Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment) drafted and circulated the petition soon after Cosby's deposition was made public this summer. PAVE is also supporting Gosar's bill, according to the Guardian.
The avalanche of sexual assault accusations against Cosby has permanently damaged his former reputation as one of America's most-beloved public personas. Over the past year, Netflix and NBC have canceled a television deal and comedy special with Cosby, networks have stopped airing reruns of The Cosby Show, and multiple universities stripped him of honorary degrees. (Cosby's star will remain on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, however, per the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce).
When asked if he would revoke Cosby's award this past summer, President Obama made it clear he could not, citing a lack of "precedent" or "mechanism" for doing so. But he hinted that he probably would if he could.
"I will say this," Obama said, "if you give a woman—or a man, for that matter—without his or her knowledge a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that's rape. And I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape."
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was created in 1963 to be awarded to those who have made ''especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." Cosby received the honor from President George W. Bush in 2002.