House Dems Weigh Further Punishment For Conyers If He Refuses To Resign

Leadership had called on him to resign. If he doesn't, there are harsher steps to take.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Each member of House Democratic leadership called on Thursday for the resignation of the chamber’s longest serving member, Rep John Conyers (D-MI), more than a week after it was revealed that the Michigan Democrat had paid settlements in sexual harassment disputes.

The calls, which started with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), bring to a crest days of private efforts to oust Conyers from Congress. Aides say that party leadership has been working with members of the Congressional Black Caucus since last week to, as one senior Democrat put it, “get rid of him altogether.” Those efforts have been led by Pelosi and, to a lesser degree, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the third ranking Democrat in the House, and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), a prominent CBC member.

But they’ve been met with pushback by the “old guard of the CBC,” as a House Democratic aide said. Their concerns, the aide relayed, have been predominantly centered on the belief that Conyers has faced both a double standard in his treatment and is unfairly being singled out for actions that numerous other members are guilty of.

CBC members have argued that while Conyers deserves the criticism he is receiving, he only finds himself in his current predicament because his case was selectively leaked by a far-right media personality with a dubious record of reporting and clear partisan intentions. They also have complained that while Democrats have demanded swift action against Conyers, they have been slow to demand the same for Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) amid his own allegations of sexually aggressive behavior.

“Franken admitted it, whereas Conyers is saying this didn’t happen,” the aide said, in an attempt to describe (but not ascribe to) the general pushback Conyers’ defenders have offered. “There is a concern about how he is being treated and whether there is a racial undertone.”

Conyers—who has been accused by four women of misconduct, three of whom say he made unwanted sexual advances— has shown no signs that he is going to succumb to Pelosi and Clyburn’s request that he resign. He has agreed to cooperate with a House Ethics Committee investigation but denies that he sexually harassed any staff members and is currently hospitalized in Detroit due to a stress-related illness. His lawyer Arnold Reed went on the offensive, calling out Pelosi for what he deemed as hypocrisy.

“Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman, and she sure as hell won’t be the one to tell the congressman to leave,” Reed said in a Detroit press conference. “I would suspect that Nancy Pelosi is going to have to explain what is the discernible difference between Al Franken and John Conyers.”

The prospect of Conyers staying in office has left Democratic leadership increasingly worried. The senior Democrat said that the party was exploring next steps to take should the stand off persist. Among options floated was removing Conyers entirely from the House Judiciary Committee (the congressman already lost his post as the ranking member) and, potentially, a vote on expulsion. Another aide said that if such plans were in the works, they were in the infant stages. “There’s been no such talk of that that I’m aware of,” the aide said.

Another Democratic aide told The Daily Beast that some members have expressed concern that a resignation would let Conyers “off the hook.” Once a member leaves office, the aide noted, “the ethics committee’s jurisdiction ends.” Meaning that, “there is no adequate punishment.” Conyers would, for example, continue to get a pension under this scenario.

One of the problems leadership faces is that Conyers has not been in direct contact. Much of the discussion over his future has been done via Richmond. Pelosi has not spoken to Conyers in days.

“It is all just a mess,” said the senior Democrat.

Even the decision of Pelosi to call for Conyers’ resignation seemed to have been decided on the fly. A House Democrat told The Daily Beast that leadership gave no indication that they would be making this push prior to it actually happening. But that lawmaker said it didn’t come as much surprise. There has been wide discontent within the party over how the Conyers matter has been handled to date.

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Much of that discontent centers on Pelosi’s appearance on “Meet the Press,” in which she sidestepped calls for a resignation and praised Conyers as “an icon.” Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) said on Wednesday that Pelosi’s remarks “set women back and—quite frankly, our party back—decades.” She did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment from The Daily Beast.

On Thursday morning, Marion Brown, who detailed accusations against Conyers that led to a $27,000 settlement in 2015—first reported by BuzzFeed News last week, went public with her accusations.

“Some of the things that he did, it was sexual harassment,” Brown said on the “Today” show. “Violating my body, propositioning me, inviting me to hotels with the guise of discussing business, and then propositioning for sex. He just violated my body. He has touched me in different ways, and it was very uncomfortable and very unprofessional.”

Though efforts to push Conyers aside had been in the works behind the scenes, the pressure to make a public declaration became so acute that Pelosi came forward on Thursday.

“The allegations against Conyers, we have learned more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing and very credible,” Pelosi said. “Congressman Conyers should resign.”

Shortly after those statements, Clyburn, who had been dismissive of questions about Conyers just the day prior, echoed the sentiment. The South Carolina Democrat told reporters that it would be in the “best interest” for Conyers and his colleagues for the Democrat from Michigan to step down.

“I am hopeful that he will do the same thing for his constituents,” Clyburn said referring to Conyers’ decision to step down as ranking member, saving them from having to force him to do it. “Because this is at the point where he needs to do for his constituents what he did for his colleagues.”