WASHINGTON (AP) — GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain is promoting his campaign to congressional Republicans amid charges that he sexually harassed two women in the 1990s.
Cain planned a series of meetings Wednesday in which he’ll discuss health care reform and likely his own political viability with lawmakers who could help salvage it from the fallout of the sexual harassment allegations.
Surging atop the polls only two months before Republicans begin choosing their presidential nominee, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO scheduled a tour of Washington this week to introduce himself to the nation’s power brokers and show he is ready for high office.
WATCH NBC NEWS COVERAGE OF CAIN’S CONFIDENTIAL ACCUSER:
On the eve of his arrival, reports surfaced of sexual harassment complaints against him while he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the mid- to late-1990s. Cain has ended up spending his time in Washington on a different kind of presidential fitness test than he had planned: campaign crisis management.
The New York Times reported Tuesday night that the National Restaurant Association gave a female employee a year’s salary in severance pay, $35,000, after she said an encounter with Cain made her uncomfortable working there. The newspaper cited three people with knowledge of the payment to the woman.
The lawyer for a different accuser, Joel P. Bennett, said in media interviews Tuesday that his client wants the restaurant association to waive confidentiality so she can respond to Cain’s claims that the complaints were “totally baseless and totally false.” A spokeswoman for the restaurant association, Sue Hensley, said Tuesday night that the group had not been contacted by Bennett.
Bennett told The Associated Press that he would have more to say after he meets with his client Wednesday. In an interview Tuesday night on CNN, he said he stood behind his client. “I know her very well,” he said, “and I’m sure she would not make a false complaint.”
When Politico first published the allegations, it reported that five-figure financial settlements were reached with two women who had worked with Cain at the restaurant association.
Cain has repeatedly denied he ever harassed anyone but has struggled to remain consistent on the details. He first denied remembering the specifics of the complaints, then offered up some details of an incident in which a woman apparently had trouble with a hand gesture he says he used to compare her height to that of his wife, Gloria. He said in interviews that the details had come back to him during an intense day of questioning.
Tuesday night, he began to pivot toward Congress and the war for lawmakers’ endorsements that could mean critical on-the-ground support and campaign cash. Cain’s rival in Iowa, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has a sophisticated network of surrogates in Congress trying to coax their colleagues into his camp. So far, they’ve rounded up at least 33 endorsements. Cain has none.
But lawmakers remained interested. The delegation from Cain’s home state, Georgia, helped set up a series of private events intended to introduce Cain around Capitol Hill.
Cain dined near the Capitol with a gathering of Republican senators Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, after a speech in nearby Alexandria, Va., Cain was to head back to Capitol Hill for a speech to House members on health care.
From there, it was back-to-back events set up by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga. First, Cain was to meet and greet House members at the discreet Capitol Hill Club for a conversation about health care policy. Then it was on to the Republican National Committee, where Cain was to speak with members of the Georgia delegation, a spokesman for Graves said.
At some point, Cain was to meet House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan is meeting presidential candidates in his role at the Republican National Committee.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.