Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., stepped down as the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee on Sunday, following sexual harassment accusations.
The 27-term congressman said he denied the allegations, but was stepping down because of the ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation.
It’s an important development – last week, Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) both called on Conyers to give up this committee post – but there’s a growing chorus arguing that the Michigan Democrat needs to go much further.
Shortly before the holiday weekend, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) became the first congressional Democrat to call on Conyers to quit, which followed an editorial from his hometown newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, which also called for his resignation in light of the allegations.
Conyers’ lawyer has said that won’t happen, though pressure from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could change that. We learned yesterday, however, that pressure is unlikely to materialize.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s comments about sexual harassment allegations in her party’s own ranks touched off a fierce blowback not only from Republicans, but also from progressives, who said they feared it muddled the Democrats’ message on misconduct by putting politics ahead of protecting women.
In an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Pelosi, D-Calif., offered supportive words for Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who has been accused of sexually harassing former members of his congressional staff and who reached a taxpayer-funded settlement with one accuser who said she was fired for rejecting his advances.
Pelosi praised Conyers, who has denied the allegations, as an “icon,” questioned the identity of his accusers and declined to call for his resignation – all within moments of having hailed the “zero tolerance” movement against sexual misconduct as “transformative … so wholesome, so refreshing, so different.”
It’s been several years, but in 2006, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders knew they had a chance to reclaim the House majority, and they hoped to exploit the Republicans’ “culture of corruption” as a major campaign issue. That became a little complicated when then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) was caught keeping cash in his freezer.
Those of you who’ve been reading me for a very long time may recall that Pelosi didn’t hesitate to act: she privately urged Jefferson to resign and publicly asked him to give up his seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee “in the interest of upholding the high ethical standard of the House Democratic Caucus.”
The Congressional Black Caucus, which had rallied to Jefferson’s defense, was furious and suggested Pelosi’s leadership role was in jeopardy as a result of her criticism of the Louisiana Democrat.
I suspect this left a lasting impression on Pelosi. Indeed, it’s likely this is on her mind when dealing with Conyers’ controversy.
That does not, however, make her comments yesterday, as she tried to walk a tightrope, any less problematic.