NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A top Tennessee Republican has gone on the defensive after detailing what he would do if he were sexually assaulted as he fielded questions on appointing a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct to oversee an education committee.
A video recording released this week showed House Speaker Glen Casada saying that if he were raped, he "would move and hell would have no fury." The Republican was being filmed surreptitiously at a town hall by former Democratic congressional candidate Justin Kanew, who later posted the video to social media.
When Kanew pushed back that Casada couldn't know what a woman in rural Tennessee would do in that situation, Casada said "as a man I could, there are just certain codes of conduct."
Casada has since clarified he did not mean he would physically move from his home and neither was he suggesting rape victims should move away from their assailants but instead he would take other actions. However, Casada on Thursday doubled down on his decision to name Republican David Byrd as chairman of an education panel.
"Allegations are just that," Casada told The Associated Press. "Our most sacred right is that we are innocent until proven guilty. We must abide by that."
Casada's comments have sparked criticism from sexual assault victim advocates , who have repeatedly called for Casada to remove Byrd from the legislative leadership position since the announcement was first made.
Three women have accused Byrd — a three term lawmaker from a heavily Republican legislative district — of sexual misconduct when he was their high school basketball coach nearly three decades ago. Two women alleged Byrd inappropriately touched them. The third said Byrd tried to.
One of the women, Christi Rice, recorded a call to Byrd. The recording had the lawmaker apologizing but he didn't detail his action and denied anything happened with other students.
Byrd was 28 years old at the time and working as head coach at Wayne County High School when Rice says he abused her.
"It was an accusation against Rep. Byrd. And just like Brett Kavanaugh, who had five women accuse him, they proved to be lying," Casada said, who provided no further evidence how he knew the women were lying.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee has not called on Byrd to resign and has not said publicly if he believes Casada made the right decision putting Byrd in leadership.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally joined former House Speaker Beth Harwell last year in calling for Byrd to resign when the allegations were first revealed. When asked Thursday if he still stood by that stance, McNally said he respected Casada's judgment but things would be different if the same situation were in the Senate.
"He's been elected by its constituents and it's certainly a difficult situation. Should that happen in the Senate, with our members, I would have handled that a little bit different," McNally said. "But I certainly respect Speaker Casada and his judgment. He's a little bit closer to the situation than I am."
Follow Kimberlee Kruesi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kkruesi