WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi defended Michigan Rep. John Conyers as an “icon” for women’s rights and declined to say whether the longtime Democratic lawmaker should resign over allegations that he sexually harassed female staff members.
She insisted that he will do the “right thing.”
“We are strengthened by due process,” Pelosi said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”Just because somebody is accused — was it one accusation, is it two? … He’s done a great deal to protect women.”
Still, calling the allegations against Conyers a “big distraction,” Pelosi said there may be a close review of the 88-year-old’s status as the top member on the House Judiciary Committee, given its role in reviewing U.S. laws addressing sexual misconduct.
“This is about going forward,” Pelosi said. “We also have to address it for every person, every workplace in the country, not just in the Congress of the United States. And that’s very important. And a good deal of that would be done by the Judiciary Committee, and I know that John would take that into consideration.”
Asked to specify her position, Pelosi said, “I’m not sharing that with you right now.”
The House Ethics Committee is investigating Conyers after receiving allegations of sexual harassment and age discrimination involving staff members as well as using “official resources for impermissible personal purposes.”
Conyers says he will fully cooperate.
At least one House Democrat, Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, has called on Conyers to step down. Two other Democrats, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chairman of the largest group of congressional liberals, have said Conyers should step aside from his leadership role on the Judiciary committee.
News website BuzzFeed reported last Monday that Conyers’ office paid a woman more than $27,000 under a confidentiality agreement to settle a complaint in 2015 that she was fired from his Washington staff because she rejected his sexual advances. BuzzFeed also published affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately — rubbing their legs and backs — or requesting sexual favors.
Conyers’ attorney, Arnold Reed, has said the veteran lawmaker would address the allegations after the Thanksgiving holiday.
It comes amid increasing attention on the issue of sexual harassment with multiple men in entertainment, media and politics facing allegations of misconduct. On the congressional level, Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore also are the subject of accusations.
This coming week, the House will vote on requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs. Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said earlier this month that the training would be required, but lawmakers plan a vote on a bipartisan resolution to mandate training. The Senate has already approved a measure requiring all senators, staff and interns to be trained on preventing sexual harassment.
On Sunday, Pelosi stressed that only Conyers knows the full facts of his situation, but she was critical of confidentiality agreements like the one Conyers signed to settle a 2015 complaint against him. She said the Ethics Committee should be able to make such nondisclosure agreements public, if sexual misconduct victims authorize it.
“All of these nondisclosure agreements have to go,” Pelosi said.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who sponsored legislation to overhaul the system by which sexual complaints are made and settled on Capitol Hill, said Congress needs to show a greater commitment to addressing sexual misconduct. Last month, she shared her own story of being sexually assaulted by a high-level aide while she was a staffer.
“This is absolutely a priority that we must focus on in terms of fixing the system,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” ”We say zero tolerance, but I don’t believe that we put our money where our mouths are.”