Embattled Rep. John Conyers to step down Tuesday
Embattled Democratic Rep. John Conyers told a Detroit area radio show that he’ll step down from his seat in Congress Tuesday, the first member of Congress to resign amid a nationwide reckoning over sexual harassment in the workplace.
Conyers, who spoke for the first time in public since returning to his home district amid allegations of sexual harassment, announced his retirement on Mildred Gaddis’ radio show in Detroit. He endorsed his son to replace him in Congress.
“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we’re going through now,” he said, calling in from a local hospital. “This too shall pass.”
Pressure had been mounting for Conyers, who was hospitalized in Michigan late last month, to resign. Members of the Democratic leadership, including Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jim Clyburn, one of the elder members of the Congressional Black Caucus, all called on Conyers to step down. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan also called on Conyers to resign.
Conyers, who was the longest currently serving of member of the US House of Representatives, was facing investigation by the House Ethics Committee into multiple allegations that he had sexually harassed women who worked with him. The Ethics Committee typically only investigates issues affecting current members of Congress, so it’s unclear whether the panel will continue their probe following Tuesday’s announcement.
The race to replace Conyers
It now falls to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, to call a special election to fill the seat. He has broad discretion on when he can do this, including pairing it with the 2018 election in November should he choose.
According to the secretary of state’s office, the call for special election will include a primary date as well.
According to Michigan law, ballots must be sent out at least 45 days before the election to members of the military serving overseas.
While Conyers endorsed his son, it’s unclear whether John Conyers III would be the only member of the family running for that seat. Ian Conyers, the grandson of Conyers’s brother and a state senator, told The New York Times in an interview before John Conyers’ announcement that he intended to run.
Last week, Marion Brown, a woman with whom Conyers had settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2005, appeared on NBC’s “Today” show and said Conyers had “violated” her body, propositioned her for sex and touched her inappropriately. The settlement was first reported by BuzzFeed News. Court documents also revealed that another staffer in 2007 filed — and later dropped — a lawsuit against Conyers, claiming that the lawmaker sexually harassed her in 2015 and 2016, while she was working for him.
A third woman, Deanna Maher, said Conyers made three sexual advances toward her when she worked for him in his district office in Detroit from 1997 to 2005, CNN reported last week.
Melanie Sloan, a former Conyers aide and Washington lawyer, told The Washington Post last week that Conyers harassed and verbally abused her when she worked for his Washington office in the 1990s. She did not characterize the harassment as sexual in nature, saying instead that he was inappropriate and abusive.
In the days following the allegations, Conyers had fiercely denied the allegations against him and vowed to fight to clear his name. A lawyer for Conyers has repeatedly said the congressman denied wrongdoing and had no plans to resign, despite more calls from members of his own party.
“It is not up to Nancy Pelosi,” attorney Arnold Reed told reporters at a news conference late last month. “Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman, and she sure as hell won’t be the one to tell the congressman to leave.”
Conyers did last month step down as the top Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, saying that remaining as the ranking member would be a distraction “in light of the attention drawn by recent allegations made against me.” He vowed to fight to clear his name and reclaim his post.
Last week, Democratic sources told CNN that several members of the Congressional Black Caucus were in talks to get Conyers to resign, but that they were trying to ease his exit without trampling on his legacy during more than half a century in the House of Representatives and as a leader in the civil rights movement.
Conyers not the only case
Conyers’ resignation comes amid a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill regarding sexual harassment and misconduct. Lawmakers are under pressure to overhaul the process through which sexual harassment complaints are made and settled at the Capitol, and to bring more transparency to what critics say is a secretive process.
Across the rotunda, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken returned to work last week after accusations that he groped as many as five women, including a morning news anchor for a Los Angeles radio station and an Army veteran, both at USO tour events. When he returned to Capitol Hill, Franken said that he was “embarrassed and ashamed” and intends to comply with any investigation into his behavior.
With Conyers’s resignation, Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young becomes the new dean of the House. He is now the longest current member of Congress, holding his at-large seat since March 6, 1973.
This story has been updated and will continue to update with additional developments.