Montage: After Talking Tough on Sexual Harassment, Dems Rally Behind Franken, Conyers

‘John Conyers is an icon in our country’

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Anyone interested in committing sexual abuse without fear of consequence might consider running for Congress as a Democrat.

After all, just consider how over the last few weeks, when elected Democrats have stood accused of sexual misconduct, their party colleagues have raced to their defense. 

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is accused of groping several women, including his political supporters, as well as engaging in other forms of sexual harassment. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is likewise accused of multiple instances of sexual misconduct, and was reported to have paid settlements using public funds. 

When asked whether either of these elected leaders should resign or be removed from office, the following Democrats have said no:

— Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.)

— Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

— Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

— Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.)

— Rep. Jackson Lee (D-Texas)

— Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)

— Rep. John Garamendi (D-N.Y.)

— Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hi.)

— Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

— Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.)

— Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

— Hillary Clinton

— Jackie Speier (D-Calif.)

— Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.)

These elected leaders almost all say the same thing: Franken and Conyers deserve a presumption of innocence, and they should remain in power until an investigation concludes the accusations are factual. 

Contrast this treatment with the private sector, where males accused of misconduct have faced far swifter justice. Almost without fail, when someone is accused of misconduct in business, they’re immediately suspended pending a review, after which they’re often fired.

Harvey Weinstein, for example, was fired from his own company just days after The New Yorker reported women accusing him of rape. NBC fired Mark Halperin less than a week after the Washington Post reported various allegations of sexual misconduct. CBS fired Charlie Rose within two days of his scandal erupting. Amazon fired Roy Price days after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced. 

One of the Senate’s most noteworthy investigations into sexual harassment came when Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) was accused by more than 10 women of having sexually abused them; the Senate conducted an investigation that dragged on for 30 months, during which time he continued collecting a salary. Years after the story broke, he ultimately resigned. 

“Simply put, does Congressman Conyers need to step down? Does he need to resign, do you think?” CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

“I think the good news is the good news is, the women in Congress who have been impacted, who have offered their stories we’ll be listening to,” replied Jackson Lee. “The legislation we have, Me Too, should be passed next week. You can do that by implementing martial law and in 24 hours we can pass a new process. I think to disabuse the American people that the House Ethics Committee is lightweight. Any criminal acts go to the attorney general if it happened in Washington D.C.”

Rep. Speier, who in part brought the issue of politicians abusing their power of female subordinates to the forefront by announcing she was aware of several malefactors, nonetheless refused to call for Franken to resign, saying: “I think the Senate will have to first investigate and then once those results are made public, I’ll answer that question then.”

When Rep. Beyer was asked if Conyers should resign, he likewise punted: “Let’s wait and see what the House Ethics Committee does. The good news is that they are equally divided Democrat and Republican. It’s very bipartisan. Very even. And I certainly will endorse whatever they do.”

Rep. Ted Deutch recently said in an interview Roy Moore should quit his race Senate race; when asked whether Franken should likewise quit, Deutch demurred: "In my role in the ethics committee, I would want to have the opportunity to speak with the woman."

When Rep. Jeffries was asked whether Conyers should resign, he offered this non sequitur: “The allegations are clearly disturbing, disappointing, deeply troubling. The ethics investigation should be thorough, swift, and more importantly, it should respect the dignity of the women who are part of it so they are not chilled in being reluctant to come forward down the road.”  

Asked whether Franken should resign, Rep. Garamendi likewise said an ethics investigation will suffice: "I think there ought to be a very thorough ethics investigation with all of this information put on the table."

Others have gone further, suggesting that these politicians' place in American society offers a kind of immunity. Rep. Pelosi, appearing Sunday on Meet the Press, praised Conyers as an "icon" who is advancing women's interests:

TODD: So define zero tolerance. You said there’s now a zero tolerance.


TODD: John Conyers. What does that mean for him? Right now. In or out?

PELOSI: We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused -- and was it one accusation? Is it two? I think there has to be -- John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great deal to protect women -- Violence Against Women Act, which the left -- right-wing -- is now quoting me as praising him for his work on that, and he did great work on that. But the fact is, as John reviews his case, which he knows, which I don’t, I believe he will do the right thing.

TODD: Why don’t you?

PELOSI: Excuse me. May I finish my sentence?

TODD: Sure, sure.

PELOSI: That he will do the right thing.

TODD: And is the right thing what? Resign?

PELOSI: He will do the right thing in terms of what he knows about his situation. That he’s entitled to due process. But women are entitled to due process as well.

Pelosi's congressional colleague, Rep. Meeks, suggested something similar in another Sunday interview: "I think that John Conyers is an — no question his service in the United States Congress has made America a better place. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the service of John Conyers." Meeks agreed with Pelosi that Conyers is an "icon": "There is no question and I think history will record him as an icon and individual who committed his life to making the United States of America a better place."

Hillary Clinton, who campaigned in 2016 saying women accusers have a right to be believed, has likewise suggested that an investigation is sufficient with her "friend" Al Franken. 

“Look, Al Franken, you know, he’s a friend of mine," Clinton said. "And I deeply regret, uh, what he did, there's no excuse for his behavior. None at all. But he's called for an investigation, he's apologized to the woman involved. Apparently she accepted the apology. So I think we have got to recognize that he agreed to an ethics investigation. It will go to the ethics committee. It will investigate whatever the situation, uh, was."

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