Top Democratic Rep. John Conyers has called it quits… but only for his position as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Democrats have been quick to support the “me too” chorus of women — and some men — who have stepped up to allege sexual misconduct and name names. But now “me too” stains the Democrats, too, putting them in an awkward place as they calibrate how forcefully to respond.
The move left Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California largely speechless. She has refused to say if Conyers should resign his congressional position — or say whether she believes the accusers.
Allegations against Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Conyers of Michigan are just the latest chapter in the politics of sexual predation for the Democratic Party, which has a fraught history on the subject.
Former President Bill Clinton is a serial rapist, for example, but is advertised by the party as a champion of women’s rights.
For decades, Bill and Hillary dismissed allegations that extended to violent rape as mere dalliances or the tales of “looney” women.
And now, BuzzFeed has published affidavits from former employees of Conyers who said they saw the Democrat inappropriately touching women who worked for him and asking them for sexual favors.
It reported that his office paid more than $27,000 to a woman who alleged she was fired because she rejected his sexual advances. On Tuesday, Conyers denied he made that settlement — but his office later acknowledged it while still denying that the allegations were true.
Even while fiercely denying allegations of sexual harassment, Conyers is giving up his leadership position as top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
The longest-serving active member of Congress, Conyers is the only African-American to have held the position of chairman or ranking member on the Judiciary panel, which oversees a range of U.S. law enforcement issues from civil rights and impeachment of federal officials to sexual harassment.
“I cannot in good conscience allow these charges to undermine my colleagues in the Democratic Caucus, and my friends on both sides of the aisle in the Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives,” Conyers said.
His sudden announcement came as a scandal-weary Congress prepared to return from its Thanksgiving break, with increasing attention on the issue of sexual misconduct involving multiple men in entertainment, media and politics. Along with Conyers, Franken is also the subject of serious accusations.
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This week, the House will vote on requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs.
The Senate has already approved a measure requiring all senators, staff and interns to be trained on preventing sexual harassment.
Conyers, first elected to the House in 1964, made clear he would prefer to keep his Judiciary post but had come to realize he could not “in light of the attention drawn by recent allegations made against me.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.