Michigan Rep. John Conyers is giving up the seat he has held for more than five decades amid mounting pressure that he resign over allegations of sexual harassment.
Conyers, the longest-serving member of Congress and a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a radio interview Tuesday he would endorse his son, John Conyers III, for his Detroit area House seat. His great-nephew, Michigan state Sen. Ian Conyers, also plans to run. Conyers said his "retirement" would be effective Tuesday.
"My legacy can't be compromised or diminished in any way by what we're going through now," he told host Mildred Gaddis. "I want you to know that my legacy will continue through my children."
Calls from Conyers' Democratic colleagues to step down had increased in recent days. Last week, after one of three former staffers who have accused Conyers of sexual harassment came forward in a “Today” show interview, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that the congressman should resign. From there, a chorus of other Democrats, including South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking black member of Congress, followed suit.
Yet the congressman, who was first elected in 1964, remained defiant and denied wrongdoing, even amid reports he had settled a claim through his office budget with one of the women for around $27,000. Conyers stepped down from his post as the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee last month, but refused to give up his House seat. On Tuesday, Conyers did not use the term "resign" but instead announced he would "retire today."
His decision will likely add pressure to colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have been accused of similar actions. The Senate Ethics Committee opened an investigation last week into Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota amid several sexual harassment allegations made against him. Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas said this week he would return $84,000 in taxpayer funds used to settle a sexual assault case with a former staffer, but denied any wrongdoing. The staffer, his former communications director, said she was fired for raising her concerns, detailed the alleged harassment in an interview with Politico, and described the negative consequences the episode has had on her career.
Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen is also facing pressure after BuzzFeed reported last week on sexual harassment allegations made by his former campaign finance director. In response to the report, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan said the congressman should resign.
Yet congressional leaders have not called on Franken or Farenthold to resign. Conyers' lawyer said last week that such disparity reflected a double standard. "At the end of the day, Nancy Pelosi is going to have to explain, what is the discernible difference between Al Franken and John Conyers?” attorney Arnold Reed told reporters.
And on Monday, President Trump endorsed Alabama U.S. Senate hopeful Roy Moore, who faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment involving teenagers. The Republican National Committee then also resumed financial ties with the candidate.
Congress has come under fire as an institution for its lagging, cumbersome and shadowy policy on sexual harassment claims. Conyers' case shed light on a taxpayer-funded account used by members of Congress, including Farenthold, to settle office claims.
Some members have sought to reform the reporting system and end taxpayer-funded settlements. Last week the House adopted a resolution, sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier and Virginia Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, requiring members and staff to complete anti-harassment training. The Senate passed a similar measure.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, House Whip Steny Hoyer said reforms should be adopted as quickly as possible. As for his colleague Conyers, Hoyer lauded his decades-long career but acknowledged the allegations could tarnish his legacy.
"Congressman Conyers has made very, very substantial contributions in the civil rights movement, in the Congress of the United States, and those accomplishments are there for people historically to recognize," he said. "But I don’t think there’s any doubt that allegations at the end of a career, no matter whose career it is or when it happens, have an impact.”
James Arkin contributed to this report.