Politics & Policy

John Conyers Needs to Resign — Like Yesterday

Rep. John Conyers in 2009 (Reuters photo: Rebecca Cook)
And Nancy Pelosi should have called for Conyers’s resignation much sooner.

On Thursday, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi finally came out and publicly stated that Representative John Conyers (D., Mich.) should resign — and she should have said so long ago.

Apparently, what finally convinced Pelosi was Marion Brown — the woman who had settled a sexual-harassment claim against Conyers in 2015 — coming forward to publicly tell her story: In an interview on NBC’s Today Thursday morning, Brown said that Conyers had “violated [her] body,” repeatedly propositioned her for sex, and undressed in front of her while she was working for him. According to the settlement, Brown also alleges that she was ultimately fired for refusing Conyers’s advances.

The settlement was originally reported by BuzzFeed on November 20. Brown chose to remain anonymous in the story, because, like all settlements involving congressional misconduct, hers had required her to sign a nondisclosure agreement. It wasn’t until Thursday that Brown bravely decided to break the agreement and speak out publicly anyway — and, of course, it wasn’t until she did so that Pelosi would finally demand that Conyers step down.

The behavior detailed by Brown is obviously horrific, and calling for Conyers to step down due to it is obviously the right thing to do. Here’s the thing, though: Pelosi should have done so much sooner. We knew about the existence of the settlement last Monday, and it should not have taken until the following Thursday for her to call on Conyers to resign.

After all, it’s not like Pelosi hasn’t had the chance to do so. On Sunday, November 26, Pelosi was asked about Conyers on Meet the Press — and what did she do? She heralded Conyers as “an icon in our country” who had “done a great deal to protect women.” When she was asked if she believed the accusers, Pelosi responded: “I don’t know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward.”

Um — yeah, Nancy. We don’t “know who they are” because under current policy, we’re not supposed to be allowed to know who they are. “They have not really come forward”? They were not, and technically are not, allowed to come forward.

On November 20, we already knew that there was a woman who got paid because of her allegations that Conyers had repeatedly touched and harassed her, and that she had been fired for refusing his repeated advances. Sexual-harassment settlements are not paid out for no reason, and the accused do not sign them for no reason. There has to be some kind of corroboration; there has to be some kind of reason for the people investigating the situation to believe the victim.

Now, to be fair, Pelosi never said outright that she did not believe the victim, more that she was going to just kind of wait and see what happened. This seemed far, far too weak, however — especially considering the fact that she padded it with praise of Conyers as an advocate for women, which was completely inappropriate and misguided given what we already knew at that time. I’d certainly argue that the nondisclosure requirement in itself is disgusting — especially when we’re talking about settlements that are being paid out using taxpayer money — but Brown still should not have had to put herself at risk by breaking her agreement in order for Pelosi to change her tune.

A common theme in most of these instances is that the behavior of the predator was more or less an ‘open secret.’

Despite all this, it’s still a good sign that Pelosi was at least eventually able to put politics and partisanship aside and call for Conyers to resign. Yes, it was late, and after some very insensitive comments, but you have to admit that it’s certainly better than the way many top Republicans — including President Trump himself — have handled very credible allegations made against Roy Moore.

The outing of sexual predators has been all over the news lately, and a common theme in most of these instances is that the behavior of the predator was more or less an “open secret.” People knew that these people had problems, but they were respected or adored for one reason or another, and so the institutions that employed them worked to cover up their behavior. Generally, the only people who are eager to speak out are the people who have political views that are the opposite of the person being accused — and that’s not good enough.

I suppose I can understand how it’s difficult for some people to see their heroes fall, but we can’t lose sight of what we’re gaining: The workplace becoming a better place for women, one where they’re safe from the people who use their power to prey on the weak.


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