WASHINGTON — A freshman House Democrat said today that her colleagues can’t overlook sexual harassment allegations against their own while criticizing Republicans for the same, and said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) should step down.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a civil-rights and immigration-advocacy activist before serving in the Washington State Senate and now Congress, stressed in a statement that “this is a watershed moment where, finally, the country seems to be waking up and realizing we need to have a zero tolerance policy toward sexual harassment.”
“We cannot pick and choose. Democrats cannot lambaste Trump and Moore, and then turn a blind eye to our own who face credible charges against them,” she said.
Jayapal admitted that “no one ever wants to believe that someone they respect and have regarded as a champion for civil rights issues would abuse their power to harm and harass women.”
“On top of that, sexism colors everything. Women just aren’t generally believed. Period. Even more complicated is that sexual harassment is extremely difficult to prove in any court of law. That means that efforts to stop harassment must recognize that there will be gray areas. Women will come forward and men will deny. The question is: What is society’s response? To truly change norms and cultures, we need to start believing women from the get-go,” the congresswoman said.
“Our country and these individual women have been failed by a congressional sexual harassment complaint and investigation system that silences women and leads men to believe that they can get away with this behavior. That must change.”
Jayapal added that “the actions and subsequent deflections from the growing tide of sexual harassment cases in Congress not only hurt individual women, but they undermine our institution of democracy.”
“For justice to be done in cases with substantial evidence, a simple denial is not sufficient — the relinquishment of power becomes essential,” she said. “It is not easy for me to reach this conclusion because, as a civil rights activist, I have looked up to Rep. Conyers for decades. I believe these women, I see the pattern and there is only one conclusion – Mr. Conyers must resign.”
Conyers, 88, was first elected to the House in 1964 and co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969. Today, the CBC has reportedly been pressuring Conyers to resign behind closed doors in the wake of a third former staffer accusing the congressman of sexual harassment.
Last week, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) said Conyers should resign “because enough is enough.”
“At this point what I am voicing publicly is what every single private citizen is saying across America. Why are the rules for politicians in Washington different than they are for everyone else?” Rice told CNN on Thursday. “And the list is endless. Compare what happened to Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Mark Halperin. All appropriate consequences. And yet once we start getting into the realm of politicians, well, let’s get the Ethics Commission into it and, you know, let’s investigate this. You know, and take forever to come up with a conclusion.”
But on NBC Sunday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that “we are strengthened by due process” and “just because someone is accused — was it one accusation, was it two? I think there has to be.”
“John Conyers is an icon in our country. He’s done a great deal to protect women,” she said, citing his work on the Violence Against Women Act. “…He will do the right thing in terms of what he knows about his situation, that he is entitled to due process, but women are entitled to due process as well.”
Asked if she believes Conyers’ accusers, Pelosi said, “I don’t know who they are. They have not really come forward… That’s for the Ethics Committee to review.”