Quote of the Day:
There are sexual harassers, and then there is John Conyers, the Democrat from Detroit who made his congressional office an adjunct of his libido.
There is a genuine concern that in the flood of accusations of harassment from anonymous women we risk losing sight of gradations of sexual misconduct.
Not that fanny pinching is okay–it's not. But we need to make distinctions. Some things are not as bad as others.
No such haziness exists with regard to the sexual misconduct of 27 term Congressman John Conyers of Detroit –unless you're Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Most of us know what the minority leader said, when asked about her colleague's behavior. But it bears repeating. As captured by Rich Lowry:
Yet House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, when asked about Conyers on “Meet the Press,” mumbled and looked at her shoes. She wasn’t able to summon any dudgeon, let alone high dudgeon, about Conyers. The harshest thing she said is that, “as John reviews his case — which he knows, which I don’t — I believe he will do the right thing.”
Gee whiz. Forgive me for saying this, but Mr. Conyers does not strike me as the kind of guy who can be counted upon to always do the right thing.
As described in Rich Lowry's column, Conyers turned his office into a latter day Ottoman Empire harem.
The accusations of sexual misconduct on the part of Conyers are multiple and consistent:
He reached a settlement agreement with one accuser, whose account is backed by affidavits from other employees.
One woman said in an affidavit that one of her duties was “to keep a list of women I assumed he was having affairs with and call them at his request and, if necessary, have them flown in using congressional resources.”
Not having to bother with the logistics of your own mistresses is evidently one of the privileges of being a public servant.
Another accuser, a former Conyers scheduler, filed a lawsuit that she eventually dropped when a court refused her request to keep it sealed (she says she didn’t want to harm Conyers’ reputation). In the suit, she says she complained to Conyers’ chief of staff about his unwelcome advances. The chief of staff told her to write them all down. She couldn’t “due to the extreme amount of time it would require to adequately chronicle these advances and behaviors and manage her work load.”
At one point, the wife of the congressman accused the scheduler of having an affair with Conyers and threatened to get her fired. Just another day at the office of the congressman from Michigan’s 13th District.
Pelosi offers two justifications for going easy on Conyers. One is that the congressman is a civil rights “icon.” By this logic, being a legend is a little like being a celebrity as described by Donald Trump in the “Access Hollywood” tape — it’s a free pass for gross behavior.
The other Pelosi rationale is that Conyers “has done a great deal to protect women.” This makes ideology rather than personal conduct the standard.
It could not have been pleasant to be a woman and work in the icon's congressional office (as described in Buzzfeed):
On one occasion, she alleges that Conyers asked her to work out of his room for the evening, but when she arrived the congressman started talking about his sexual desires. She alleged he then told her she needed to “touch it,” in reference to his penis, or find him a woman who would meet his sexual demands.
She alleged Conyers made her work nights, evenings, and holidays to keep him company.
In another incident, the former employee alleged the congressman insisted she stay in his room while they traveled together for a fundraising event. When she told him that she would not stay with him, she alleged he told her to “just cuddle up with me and caress me before you go.”
“Rep. Conyers strongly postulated that the performing of personal service or favors would be looked upon favorably and lead to salary increases or promotions,” the former employee said in the documents.
The complaint includes four signed affidavits from other former Conyers staff members who said this was no isolated incident. One former staffer reported witnessing a “variety of inappropriate sexual advances” from Conyers, directed toward herself and other female staff members. Another former staffer said, “I was asked on multiple occasions to pick up women and bring them to Mr. Conyers apartments, hotel rooms, etc.”
Conyers' behavior was so flagrant that veteran journalist Cokie Roberts has said that female reporters knew not to get in the elevator with the icon.395 "severance package" for a staffer who planned to file a suit alleging that Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva was frequently drunk at work and created a hostile work environment.
New York magazine notes (by way of Buzzfeed) that Conyers used taxpayer money for a settlement with one woman. That seems to be par for the course in Congress. Most recently, the taxpayer's picked up the tab for a $48, 395 "severance package" for a staffer who planned to file a suit alleging that Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva was frequently drunk at work and created a hostile work environment.
Rich Lowry points out that Conyers is from a safe Democratic seat and thus it would not have been enormously risky for Pelosi to have taken a stronger stand with him. But she didn't. This, as Lowry says, sheds a lot of light on what Democrats really think about harassment.
By the way, I believe that there may be an ironic beneficiary of Pelosi's refusal (she may have squirmed into a different position by now but first impressions are important) to criticize Conyers. A poll indicates that Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican senatorial against whom extremely believable accusations of serious sexual misconduct are being made, has gone up in the polls. It may be an outlier but it is interesting.
In contrast to Pelosi's handling of Conyers, National Republicans haven't stinted in calling for Moore to get out of the race, but I am wondering if some Alabama Republicans took a look at Pelosi on Conyers, and said–in effect–"Why should we sacrifice a seat when the Democrats won't even toss an 88-year-old congressman with a sordid record?" I am not saying this is necessarily the moral position–the accusations against Moore are chilling. I'm just suggesting that some Alabama Republicans have made that calculation. If so, it won't be the first time Nancy Pelosi has elected a Republican.