- Michigan Rep. John Conyers has been embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal, which some Democrats say warrants a resignation.
- Democratic leaders are sticking to the process before handing down judgment, angering younger members.
- A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill to scrap the process by which Congress covers up sexual misconduct settlements at the taxpayers’ expense.
WASHINGTON – Democratic leaders in the House are taking a cautious approach before ousting embattled Rep. John Conyers, to the anger of younger members eager for a swift response to the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the longtime Michigan congressman.
While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said they believe Conyers’ accusers, they want an orderly ethics investigation with the appropriate consequences in due time.
“Calling for the resignation of someone doesn’t actually create the resignation,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley said in a Wednesday press conference. “The reality is we have a process in place and we’re calling for expedited process of the Ethics Committee to bring this to the forefront, so there can be as much transparency as possible, recognising the rights of … those who are bringing these very, very serious allegations before Mr. Conyers.”
Rep. Linda Sanchez, who vice chairs the Democratic Caucus, told reporters, “I don’t know all the facts, I don’t know the specific allegations.”
“It appears there is more than one complainant, which does heighten my sense there may be something there,” Sanchez added. “But again, I can’t sit and judge a member and call for their resignation unless I’ve been party to hearing all of the evidence and hearing the defence of the evidence.”
Younger representatives are calling for Conyers’s resignation, but the party leadership has stopped short of that
Since revelations of sexual misconduct by Conyers, only two Democrats have demanded his resignation: Reps. Kathleen Rice of New York and Pramila Jayapal of Washington. The party’s leaders, however, have kept their distance.
It is a systemic problem with the culture of Washington, according to Rice, who told Business Insider that Congress operates on another plane than the private sector, where prominent businessmen have been terminated for sexual misconduct.
“You have things happening in the private sector where action is taken immediately and it’s decisive and it’s appropriate – there’s accountability,” Rice said. “And then you come here to the bubble that is Washington, D.C. and we’re dragging our heels, protecting our colleagues, and we can’t do that.”
“This is why the American public does not have a positive opinion of Congress,” she added. “Because they look at us and say these are entitled people who think the rules don’t apply to them and they protect their own whenever one gets into trouble.”
“We need to get through this immediately,” Ryan said. “There’s no reason why we can’t wrap this thing up this week and make a decision one way or the other.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to bring settlements in Congress to light
Following outcry, Pelosi sent a letter to the House Ethics Committee urging them to “proceed expeditiously as well as fairly into any investigation of credible harassment and discrimination allegations.”
But the lack of action prompted a bipartisan group of lawmakers to put forth a bill that would force those who have used the secretive system in Congress to repay any settlements dating back to 1995 and would prohibit nondisclosure agreements as prerequisite for addressing sexual harassment issues.
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, who himself had a previous settlement of more than $US48,000 made public, called for more accountability. Grijalva maintains that his settlement with a former staff member was not about sexual harassment, which The Washington Times reported was due to “hostile workplace environment” and that he was “frequently drunk.”
“Disclosure of these things is good because you don’t have to work on rumour or supposition and you get to work on the facts,” Grijalva told Business Insider. “You have something in front of you that you can ask questions about.”
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