Michigan Congressman John Conyers, who has been in Congress since 1964, stands accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, including several former staffers, but House leaders have been slow to react.
Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did not initially condemn Conyers, calling him a civil rights “icon” during an appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday. However, Pelosi gave a press conference on Thursday, during which she called for Conyers’ resignation.
“[The allegations] are serious, disappointing, and credible,” said Pelosi at a press conference, followed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who also called on Conyers to resign. Pelosi said, “These brave women are owed justice…I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family and wish them well. However, Congressman Conyers should resign.”
Pelosi’s comments came after Conyers’ most recent accuser, Marion Brown, alleged on “The Today Show” that Conyers had sexually harassed her during her time working for his office between 2003 and 2014. Brown also claims that she was fired for rejecting the congressman’s sexual advances.
However, Conyers’ lawyer has stated that he has no intention of resigning. “It’s not up to Nancy Pelosi,” said the congressman’s lawyer, Arnold Reed. “Nancy Pelosi did not elect him and she sure as hell won’t be the one to tell the congressman to leave.” Reed went on to accuse Brown of “jumping on the bandwagon” of accusers against the congressman. He also questioned why Ms. Brown continued to work for Conyers, even after the alleged sexual harassment occurred.
Reed also questioned why Congressman Conyers had been asked to resign, but Minnesota Senator Al Franken had not been. Franken faced accusations of sexual harassment after a 2006 photo surfaced of the former comedian groping a woman while she slept.
“At the end of the day, I would suspect that Nancy Pelosi is going to have to explain what is the discernible difference between Al Franken and John Conyers,” said Reed.
The House and Senate Ethics Committees are currently investigating both Franken and Conyers for sexual misconduct.
Peter Flaherty, President of the National Legal and Policy Center, said, “Finally, House leaders are calling for Conyers resignation. Asking the Ethics Committee to investigate was the height of cynicism. Conyers has been investigated by the Ethics Committee before and nothing happened. Under Ryan and Pelosi, the Ethics Committee has fulfilled its traditional role of covering up corruption.”
With House leadership calling on Conyers to resign, the Detroit congressman is low on allies. Until Thursday afternoon, James Clyburn had been one of Conyers’ staunchest defenders, saying last week that he doubted the accusations “had any real substance.” At a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clyburn claimed that Conyers’ accusers are “all white women.” However, Marion Brown, Conyers’ most recent accuser, is a black woman.
During the meeting, Clyburn went on to compare Conyers’ case to that of convicted child murderer Susan Smith, who falsely claimed that a black man had hijacked her car and kidnapped her children, to illustrate what he regarded as the danger of coming to conclusions based solely on hearsay. However, Clyburn finally called on Conyers to resign on Thursday.
For his part, John Conyers has admitted to paying out a $27,000 to a former staffer in 2015, but he denied any wrongdoing. According to CBS News, 88-year-old Conyers was admitted to the hospital on Thursday morning. The congressman’s lawyer confirmed that the Conyers’ hospitalization was stress-related.
Jamie Gregora is NLPC’s Washington reporter.