— Lawmakers are facing mounting pressure to end Capitol Hill’s culture
of secrecy over sexual harassment as they return from a holiday break,
with members of both parties calling for Congress to overhaul its
handling of misconduct claims and to unmask lawmakers who have paid
settlements using taxpayer money.
Sunday, the roiling debate over sexual harassment cost one lawmaker who
has paid such a settlement — Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan
— his post as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, at
least temporarily. Mr. Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House,
announced that he was stepping aside as the House Ethics Committeeinvestigatesallegationsthat
he sexually harassed aides.
on the other side of the Capitol, Senator Al Franken, the Minnesota
Democrat who has been accused of groping several women, told a home
state newspaper thathe
would return to workon
Monday feeling “embarrassed and ashamed.”
announcements by Mr. Conyers and Mr. Franken came as both Democrats and
Republicans took to the Sunday morning television talk shows to call for
greater transparency in how harassment claims are dealt with. Under a
1995 law, complaints are handled confidentially. Lawyers for the House
and the Senate have required that settlements be kept confidential as
of this, as difficult as it is in some respects for our society, is
really important because I think it will end up changing people’s
attitudes and changing our culture,” Senator Rob Portman, Republican of
Ohio, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “So I am glad it’s being
discussed. I think it should be more transparent. I certainly think that
if you accept taxpayer funds for settlement, that should be
House is expected this week to adopt a bipartisan resolution mandating
that all members and their staffs participate in anti-harassment and
anti-discrimination training; the Senate has already adopted such a
resolution. The more difficult task will be passing legislation that
overhauls the way sexual harassment claims are handled.
the House, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Representative Jackie
Speier, Democrat of California, and Representative Barbara Comstock,
Republican of Virginia, is pushing for legislation that would require
claims to be handled in public. In the Senate, Senator Kirsten
Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, has put forth similar legislation.
was a system set up in 1995 to protect the harasser,” Ms. Speier said on
the ABC program “This Week,” adding, “We say zero tolerance, but I don’t
believe that we put our money where our mouths are.”
major question, however, is whether the Speier-Comstock legislation
should apply retroactively, meaning that those who have paid past
settlements would now be identified. The legislation would cover any
settlement reached since the beginning of this year.
Mr. Portman said he would support retroactive releases, others,
including Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, were
more cautious, saying that unmasking lawmakers could reveal the identity
of victims who want to remain private.
of these nondisclosure agreements have to go,” Ms. Pelosi said on “Meet
the Press.” But, she said, “if the victim wants to be private, she can
Katz, a lawyer who represents victims of sexual harassment, echoed those
a number of my clients, that’s the last thing in the world they would
want and could have life-altering consequences,” Ms. Katz said in an
interview on Sunday. “They settled their cases to be able to move on
with their lives while protecting their privacy.”
the case of Mr. Conyers, the lawyer Lisa Bloom, who announced on Sunday
that she was representing the woman who filed the complaint against him,
said a confidentiality agreement was preventing the woman from telling
her side of the story. Ms. Bloom urged Mr. Conyers to release her client
from the agreement so she could speak publicly.
of Mr. Conyers’s settlementwas
week by BuzzFeed News, which published documents showing that he had
settled a complaint in 2015 by a former employee who had said she was
fired because she rejected his sexual advances. The news site said it
had received documents about the case from Mike Cernovich, a right-wing
has since reported thata
also accused Mr. Conyers, 88, of sexual harassment.
deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents
reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger,” Mr. Conyers said
in a statement on Sunday. “I very much look forward to vindicating
myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics.”
Conyers said that he would “like very much to remain as ranking member,”
but had “come to believe that my presence as ranking member on the
committee would not serve these efforts while the Ethics Committee
investigation is pending.”
lawyer, Arnold E. Reed, said in a phone interview on Sunday that Mr.
Conyers had taken several days to decide to step aside from his
committee post because he did not want to make an “off the cuff” move.
Mr. Conyers spoke with several family members and deliberated during the
Thanksgiving holiday before determining that the allegations had become
too much of a distraction, the lawyer said.
wanted time to think about this and reach a conclusion that he was
comfortable with. And it was the right thing to do in his mind,” Mr.
Reed said. “He is maintaining that he did not do anything wrong. He is
maintaining his innocence. This is a temporary stepping aside his
position as ranking member so this can be a completely transparent and
Wednesday, Mr. Reed had said in an interview that Mr. Conyers believed
that some of those suggesting that he step down, including fellow
Democrats, had been scheming for years to push him out of his Judiciary
senior House Democratic aide said the decision had come after days of
effort by Ms. Pelosi, who was working with Mr. Conyers to find a way for
him to step aside gracefully. Ms. Pelosi hinted at as much on “Meet the
Press,” where she said, before Mr. Conyers’s announcement, that she
expected him to “do the right thing.”
interview showed the delicate position that Ms. Pelosi is in. She
declined to say that Mr. Conyers should step down, calling him an “icon
in our country” who had done “a great deal to protect women.” Ms. Pelosi
later came under some criticism on social media for those remarks.
Sunday night, 12 women who once worked for Mr. Conyers released a
statement in support of him. “Our experiences with Mr. Conyers were
quite different than the image of him being portrayed in the media,” the
women said, adding that he was “respectful” and “treated us as
Franken aides have also been coordinating an effort to line up women in
support of him. On Sunday, they released a statement signed by 65 women
that expressed disappointment over the allegations but called him a
“steadfast supporter of women’s rights.”
Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who holds the recently created
position of vice ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, praised Mr.
Conyers for making a “wise decision,” adding, “The House is ready to
clean house with respect to sexual harassment, and everybody agrees that
we need to have a zero-tolerance policy.”
Democrats wrestled with the allegations against Mr. Conyers and Mr.
Franken, congressional Republicans on Sunday bemoaned President Trump’s
support for Roy S. Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama who
is accused of making unwanted advances on teenagers.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have called for Mr. Moore to step aside, but
he has refused to do so. In apair
Sunday, Mr. Trumpwarnedthat
electing Mr. Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, “would be a
disaster!” Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, issued his
own warning, saying that a victory by Mr. Moore would hurt Republicans
just as much as a loss.
Moore wins, there will immediately be an ethics investigation, and he
will be working under a cloud. He is a distraction,” Mr. Thune, the No.
3 Republican in the Senate, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I would like to
see the president come out and do what we’ve done, saying Moore should
earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of a
senator. She is Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, not