Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., finally - and thankfully - recognized he really had no choice but to resign as Congress’ longest-serving member in the face of mounting accusations from multiple women that he had sexually harassed them. His is the first departure as Congress confronts issues of sexual harassment. Surely it won’t be the last - not if Congress is serious about putting an end to workplace abuse and sexual misbehavior.
Conyers, 88, on Tuesday announced from a Detroit hospital where was being treated for a stress-related illness that he was immediately giving up the seat he has held for 52 years. It was sad to see the storied career of the longest-serving African-American in congressional history and an icon of liberal policymaking end so gracelessly. Having tried to delay the inevitable, he was defiant in his refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing and selfish in seeking to anoint his son as his successor. Voters, not legacy, will decide who represents the Detroit-area district.
Meanwhile, Conyers’ departure hopefully will serve as an example with lessons to be learned. Foremost to women who have been victims of sexual harassment and who saw themselves until recently as powerless to fight back and get justice. The women who stepped forward with credible claims of mistreatment were heard and believed, and there was an appropriate reckoning.
Some credit for that goes to the Democratic Party, which worked to force Conyers out of office after determining the allegations had merit. Seemingly first working behind the scenes and then publicly calling on him to resign, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made clear after some initial hesitation that the party will not tolerate sexual harassment.
It’s a message that has been reinforced with Pelosi’s demand that another Democrat, Rep. Ruben Kihuen, Nev., accused of propositioning his campaign finance director, resign, and with Democratic party leaders welcoming a Senate ethics committee inquiry into allegations that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., groped women at public events.
Republicans, sad to say, are sending a very different message. It was recently revealed that Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim against him from his former spokeswoman. The woman, as detailed by Politico, saw her life upended. But there has been no call for Farenthold’s resignation from House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., even though he was quick to want Conyers gone in the wake of similar allegations. Does Farenthold’s offer to pay back the $84,000 really set things right? Where’s the outrage?
We gather it’s in the same place Republicans parked their principles when they decided that helping elect an accused child sex predator to the Senate - or giving a pass to a president who boasted about assaulting women - was okay because it served their political purposes.