Democratic rep. says Conyers should resign

New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice is calling on embattled Rep. John Conyers to resign from Congress after the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into allegations that the Michigan Democrat had sexually harassed members of his staff.

The allegations against Conyers, Rice said in a statement, are “as credible as they are repulsive. The women who reported this behavior suffered serious professional repercussions for doing so, which is exactly why so many victims of sexual harassment and assault decide not to step forward. If men who engage in this behavior suffered real repercussions, more victims would speak up — and maybe other men would decide to act like decent, civilized adults and not prey on women who work for and trust and admire them.”

She is the first Democratic representative to call on Conyers to leave Congress.

Conyers, who has served in the House since 1965, confirmed Monday that he had settled a wrongful termination complaint in 2015 made by a staff member who had accused him of sexual harassment, a settlement first reported by BuzzFeed News on Monday.

But Conyers said he was “expressly and vehemently” denying any wrongdoing.

In her statement, Rice said, “Whether it happened 40 years ago or last week, settlement or no settlement, Democrat or Republican — harassment is harassment, assault is assault.

“We all know credible allegations when we hear them, and the same is true of hypocrisy.”

Rice’s statement goes far further than House Democratic leaders, who have stopped short of calling on Conyers to resign.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Tuesday that “any credible allegation of sexual harassment must be investigated by the Ethics Committee.” Similarly, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called the report “very disturbing” and said that an ethics investigation is an “appropriate next step.”

Both Pelosi and Hoyer have also called for sweeping changes to the way allegations of sexual harassment are handled on the Hill, and they support legislation sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, targeting the issue.

In an interview with The New York Times, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, another member of House Democratic leadership, said he wasn’t sure the claims against Conyers were substantive.

“You can’t jump to conclusions with these types of things,” he told The New York Times. “For all I know, all of this could be made up.”

Multiple requests for comment from CNN were not returned by Clyburn’s office.

Most Democrats have stopped short of calling for Conyers’ resignation, though several have called on him to abandon his position as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Wednesday that Conyers should step down from the Judiciary position.

“No one is exempt from bad behavior, and I think that he’s agreed and I clearly see where Leader Pelosi has said there will be an immediate Ethics Committee, a review,” Meeks told CNN’s John Berman and Poppy Harlow. “I really think that probably the appropriate thing right now is that he should step down as the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and be subject to this ethics investigation.”

Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona also called on Conyers to step down from the Judiciary post, in an interview with C-SPAN.

“As agonizing as it might be for all of us, the ranking member needs to step down at the minimum. Our leader Pelosi asked for that ethics investigation and then the chips will fall from there.”