The top Democrat in the House defended her colleague Rep. John Conyers of Michigan on Sunday against allegations of sexual harassment just hours before he decided to step down from his leadership post on the Judiciary Committee while he faces an ethics review.
Mr. Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress, recently came under fire for allegedly paying off a former employee who says she was fired after rejecting his sexual advances.
But during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called Mr. Conyers an “icon.”
“He has done a great deal to protect women — the Violence Against Women Act,” Mrs. Pelosi said. “He did great work on that.”
Mrs. Pelosi said he’s entitled to due process as the ethics committee is investigating his actions.
For his part, Mr. Conyers continued on Sunday to deny any allegations of wrongdoing and said he looks forward to vindicating himself after the investigation is complete.
“I have come to believe that my presence as Ranking Member on the Committee would not serve these efforts while the Ethics Committee investigation is pending. 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,” he said in a statement Sunday afternoon.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, will replace Mr. Conyers as ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee and vowed to continue to hold the Trump administration accountable.
“Even under these unfortunate circumstances, the important work of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee must move forward,” said Mr. Nadler.
Mr. Conyers is not the only lawmaker facing an ethics probe over allegations of sexual misconduct, as Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, is also under fire for allegedly grabbing three women’s buttocks during photographs at separate events. Two of the three women came forward anonymously to the Huffington Post last week.
Mr. Franken is returning to work Monday after missing several votes since the alleged misconduct was first made public earlier this month by Leeann Tweeden, a model and radio host, who says Mt. Franken “forcibly kissed” and fondled her in 2006. The other women came forward after Ms. Tweeden’s allegation.
The Minnesota senator released a second apology Friday, telling The Associated Press he realizes how women could feel uncomfortable when he hugs and embraces them.
“I’ve thought a lot in recent days about how that could happen, and recognize that I need to be much more careful and sensitive in these situations. I feel terribly that I’ve made some women feel badly and for that I am so sorry, and I want to make sure that never happens again,” he said.
And an ethics investigation into Roy Moore, Alabama’s Republican senate candidate, could also take place if he wins the special election on Dec. 12. His chance of filling Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ former seat is in jeopardy after several women have come forward over the past few weeks, alleging Mr. Moore sexually assaulted them when he was in his 30s, and they were teenagers.
Mr. Moore, though, has denied the allegations and President Trump hasn’t ruled out campaigning for him ahead of the election, saying Alabama doesn’t need a “liberal” in the senate.
But Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, used the denial as a way to defend Mr. Franken’s handling of his allegations during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
“Others who have tried to run away from charges, you have to say, Al Franken has faced it. And he’s done it in a responsible way,” Mr. Durbin said.
Allegations of sexual harassment haven’t just plagued politicians over the past several months, as men in Hollywood and the media have also come under fire for using their powerful positions to abuse women.
Mrs. Pelosi blamed the election of President Trump for sparking the series of claims across the country, dismissing the suggestion sexual harassment has gotten worse since former President Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct more than two decades ago in both the public and private sectors.
“The election of President Trump really … just evoked a response,” she said. “[Harvey Weinstein] didn’t evoke this. The election of President Trump evoked what happened to Harvey and now everybody is served notice.”
Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, CBS’ Charlie Rose and The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush, among others, all faced a form of punishment, such as being suspended from work or losing their jobs, after allegations against them became public.
But two female lawmakers said Sunday their male colleagues aren’t facing the same type of reprimand as men in the private sector.
“The media and corporate America has been firing people,” said Rep. Barbara Comstock, Virginia Republican. “We have to have the same kind of standards.”
“We say zero tolerance, but I don’t believe we put our money where our mouths are,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, who is pushing for Congress to update its sexual harassment policies.