Rep. Kihuen Accused of Sexual Harassment; Won’t Seek Reelection but Won’t Step Down

The rising tide of allegations of sexual harassment has claimed yet another member of Congress: Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nevada. Last Saturday, Congressman Kihuen announced that he will not seek reelection. Yet as a House Ethics Committee investigation proceeds, Democratic Party leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are calling for him to step down. This he is refusing to do.

Ruben Kihuen, 37, born in Guadalajara, is a first-term congressman representing the 4th District of Nevada, which covers the northern portion of the Las Vegas area and points well beyond. Along with Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., he is one of two foreign-born members of the House of Representatives who illegally arrived in this country (or violated the terms of a legitimate visa) and subsequently has been allowed to stay under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. This grant of amnesty, created in 2012 by an Obama executive order, has been subject to frequent abuse. The charges against Rep. Kihuen, however, center on abuse of a different sort.

According to recent allegations, Kihuen likes women in ways that many would consider out of bounds. On December 1 the multimedia news site BuzzFeed reported that the congressman had propositioned his former campaign finance director, a woman identified only as “Samantha,” for dates; on two occasions, she alleged, he touched her thighs without consent. Two weeks later, on December 15, BuzzFeed published a report based on an interview with a woman employed at Kihuen’s condo building in Las Vegas. She said that he made inappropriate sexual remarks and sent suggestive text messages.

That wasn’t all. On Saturday, December 16, the online news service The Nevada Independent published allegations by a female employee of a public relations firm associated with the Kihuen campaign that the congressman had made unwanted sexual advances toward her. Those advances included touching her thighs and buttocks, and sending her hundreds of racy text messages. The woman added that she and Ruben Kihuen had never dated.

Rep. Kihuen is denying all wrongdoing. “I want to state clearly again that I deny the allegations in question,” he said in a prepared statement on Saturday. “However, the allegations that have surfaced would be a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of issues in a reelection campaign. Therefore, it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to complete my term in Congress and not seek reelection.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee each have called for Congressman Kihuen to leave office now rather than wait until January 2019. At a news conference last Thursday Pelosi remarked: “I’ve asked for him to resign. I’ve asked for him to resign right from the start.” Pelosi is facing growing pressure from her party base to make sexual harassment into a top midterm election campaign issue next year, especially as President Donald Trump himself is now a target of similar allegations.

Both major parties are fearful of giving the appearance of countenancing unacceptable sexual behavior. And with good reason. Excluding Ruben Kihuen, six lawmakers already have been accused. All have resigned or have announced they will do so shortly. Four of the accused – Reps. Joe Barton (Tex.) Blake Farenthold (Tex.) Trent Franks (Ariz.) and Tim Murphy (Pa.) – are Republicans. The other two – Sen. Al Franken (Minn.) and Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) – are Democrats.

It’s hard to sympathize with Rep. Kihuen. Were it not for President Obama’s DACA executive order five years ago, which President Trump in September partly rescinded by drawing the line against accepting new applications, Kihuen would not be a lawful resident here much less a congressman. Granted, everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Suspicion is not proof. But given that the accusations against him are anything but trivial, he should step aside at least until the House Ethics Committee completes its probe.