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Blake Farenthold drops re-election bid amid harassment claims

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said Thursday is the latest lawmaker to step down amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Image: Blake Farenthold
Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, arrives for a House Committee on the Judiciary oversight hearing on Capitol Hill on Dec. 13, 2017, in Washington. Two Republicans say that Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold won't seek re-election next year. The lawmaker is under pressure from sexual misconduct allegations that surfaced three years ago but have come under renewed focus.Andrew Harnik / AP

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said Thursday that he will not seek re-election next year, making him the latest lawmaker to step down amid sexual harassment allegations.

Farenthold faced a tough battle — five Republicans filed to challenge him in the March 2018 primary amid the drip-drip-drip of allegations that he fostered a hostile work environment in his congressional office. On Wednesday, CNN published detailed accusations by a former spokesman who said Farenthold made sexually graphic jokes and was verbally abusive to staffers.

In a video announcement posted to Facebook, Farenthold acknowledged an "unprofessional" workplace.

“I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional. It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes, and behavior that was less than professional. I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest with angry outbursts, and too often a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserve. That was wrong,” he said. “For that situation, I am profoundly sorry.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who met with the lawmaker twice late Wednesday, said Thursday morning that Farenthold "is making the right decision to retire."

Farenthold is still expected to still appear on the ballot in March, however, since the deadline to withdraw from the ballot has passed.

Earlier this month, NBC News confirmed that the Texas Republican used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by another former spokesman Lauren Greene, who sued him in 2014. The House Ethics Committee resurrected a 2015 probe after Greene agreed to testify in front of the House Ethics Committee. Farenthold denied the allegations and vowed to pay back the funds.

"Once all the facts are released, I'm confident this matter will once and for all be settled and resolved," he said at the time.

The Texas Republican appeared determined to weather the storm, but the allegations kept coming.

The Houston Chronicle reported that he and his team underwent sexual harassment training after he was accused of gender discrimination by two more women, and The New York Times reported earlier this week that Farenthold set the tone for a “frat house on the Hill.”

Farenthold, in his video announcement, again denied Greene's allegations of sexual harassment but said he was choosing not to run because the issue had become “a political distraction.”

“I would be forced to engage in a month-long campaign for personal vindication. That’s not why I came to Congress. Quite simply, my constituents deserve better.”

Farenthold is one of several congressmen to announce their decision to leave Congress amid sexual misconduct allegations: Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., announced that he'd resign last week after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct, while Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., retired last week while facing an ethics investigation into sexual harassment claims. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., also resigned last week after asking his female staffers about surrogacy.