Democratic Representative John Conyers announced Sunday that he was stepping down from his position as ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, the 88-year-old made the decision to relinquish his position under pressure from his party colleagues.
Democrats in the House are now in unfamiliar territory; deciding how to replace Conyers and how to handle the ethics investigation to come without appearing dismissive of the women who have accused him of serious misconduct.
The final straw may have been Nancy Pelosi’s interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday morning. Clearly uncomfortable, the House Democratic Leader stopped just short of dismissing the allegations against Conyers but did not completely stand by him. At the same time, Pelosi was careful to distance herself from what is, for the party that claims to champion women’s rights, a highly embarrassing predicament.
Game of Thrones For Democrats
After describing Conyers as “an icon in our country” – a remark that drew widespread scorn on social media – Pelosi said, “…as John reviews his case, which he knows, which I don’t, I believe he will do the right thing.”
Conyers, who has denied the allegations against him, has served 27 terms in the House of Representatives, beginning in 1965. He has been the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee for 10 years. His departure leaves his party with the task of quickly deciding how to replace him before any appearance of a power struggle materializes. Had a party member in Conyers’ position been removed due to an indictment, the second-ranking Democrat would automatically succeed him. In this case, the situation is less clear. New York Representative Jerry Nadler is the next most senior Democrat but Zoe Lofgren of California is said to also be vying for the now vacant seat.
According to a Politico report, Nadler and Lofgren already had aspirations to succeed Conyers on the committee. Nadler quickly released a statement that resembled a campaign pledge. “Ranking Member Conyers has a 50 year legacy of advancing the cause of justice,” the statement read, “and my job moving forward is to continue that critical work.”
Whether House Democrats will be able to quickly install him as Conyers’ replacement without facing a challenge from Lofgren remains to be seen. The senior Democrat from California is certain to realize that, should Nadler fill the committee seat, she will likely not attain the position herself for as long as Nadler remains in Congress.
A potentially intriguing twist is that, should Conyers be completely vindicated by an ethics investigation, he will expect to retake his place on the Judiciary Committee – one of the most powerful positions in Congress. Conyers, in a statement, said only that he would “step aside as Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee during the investigation of [the allegations].”
Should Accusations Alone Deny Due Process?
At least three women have alleged sexual harassment by Conyers. One of them claims she was fired from her job as a congressional aide for refusing his advances. The Representative from Michigan claims that “many” of the accusations against him come from “documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger.”
Nancy Pelosi, who supports an ethics investigation, believes that Conyers deserves due process. On “Meet The Press,” she suggested that accusations alone are not sufficient grounds upon which to make judgments.
Whether John Conyers’ political career survives the investigation could come down to the validity of allegations against him and how deeply the Ethics Committee is willing to delve. Should the Congressman’s accusers be called to testify and succeed in validating their accusations, he would, likely, have no choice but to resign.