WASHINGTON — Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., stepped down as the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee on Sunday, following sexual harassment accusations.
The 27-term congressman said he denied the allegations, but was stepping down because of the ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation.
"I deny these allegations, many of which were raised by documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger. I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House Committee on Ethics," Conyers said in a statement.
"To be clear, I would like very much to remain as Ranking Member," he added. "There is still much work to be done on core concerns like securing civil rights, enacting meaningful criminal justice reform, and protecting access to the ballot box."
Appearing on "Meet The Press" earlier in the day, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi urged “due process” before making conclusions about Rep. Conyers, saying the congressman is “an icon” who has worked to protect women.
"We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused — and was it one accusation? Is it two?” Pelosi asked.
“John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great deal to protect women - Violence Against Women Act, which the left — right-wing — is now quoting me as praising him for his work on that, and he did great work on that,” she added. “But the fact is, as John reviews his case, which he knows, which I don’t, I believe he will do the right thing.”
Conyers’ office recently confirmed issuing a settlement of $27,000 to a former staffer who says she was fired for resisting the congressman’s sexual advances. Conyers has acknowledged the payout, which he said amounted to a severance package, but he denied the allegations about what it was for.
The payout from Conyers’ office first became public in a report published by Buzzfeed on Monday, and came after a number of men in powerful positions in politics, entertainment and media have faced public accusations of sexual harassment. The accusations have opened up a national conversation about how women are treated in the workplace by men in positions of power.
When asked specifically whether she believes the accusations against Conyers, Pelosi said: “I do not know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward.”
She repeatedly said that she wants to see the House Ethics Committee investigation of Conyers play out.
Conyers has held the powerful position on Capitol Hill as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee for a decade, but after Pelosi's interview on Sunday, he announced that he would step down from the position while the Ethics Committee investigates.
Pelosi said in a statement later Sunday, "Zero tolerance means consequences. I have asked for an ethics investigation, and as that investigation continues, Congressman Conyers has agreed to step aside as Ranking Member."
On "Meet The Press," Pelosi was also asked whether she would accept an apology from Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who has apologized after being accused of unwanted touching from multiple women, if no other accusers surfaced.
"His accusers have to accept an apology," Pelosi said. "The victims have some say in all of this, as well. And that has happened in the past. People have accepted an apology, as is coming forth now that I see in the press.”
The reporting process on Capitol Hill for sexual harassment claims is a very long and arduous process that can take months to play out, but Pelosi said the House is expected to soon take up new action aimed at preventing such conduct when they vote this week on a resolution that would require all lawmakers and their staff members to go through anti-harassment training. The Senate passed a similar measure earlier this month.
Pelosi’s comments Sunday also came while Democrats and many Republican leaders have called for Alabama’s GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore to exit the race, since Moore is facing sexual misconduct accusations from nine women, including one who says he molested her when she was 14 and he was 32. Moore has denied all of the allegations.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is one of the Republican lawmakers who has called for Moore to step aside, and on Sunday said that if he were a voter in Alabama, he’d “probably vote for a Republican, but it wouldn‘t be Roy Moore.”
“As the women went on the record, I thought there was a lot of credibility in what they were saying,” Portman said on "Meet The Press." “I didn’t find the response very credible and that's how I came up with my position.”
As the national conversation on sexual harassment has accelerated, the reaction to numerous allegations from the 1990s has also been revisited.
Anita Hill accused U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment when she worked for him at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and later testified about it during his 1991 Senate confirmation hearing. Thomas denied the allegations.
Now a professor at Brandeis University, Hill said on “Meet The Press” that “unfortunately, 26 years ago, Washington wasn’t ready to lead on this issue, and I’m afraid even today Washington cannot lead the country on this issue. There seems to be so many conflicted feelings and understandings about what needs to happen when sexual misconduct occurs.”
Pelosi, meanwhile, also said the reaction to sexual misconduct accusations against former President Bill Clinton from that era versus today represent “obviously a generational change.”
“The concern that we had then was that they were impeaching the president of the United States, and for something that had nothing to do with the performance of his duties, and trying to take him out for that reason," Pelosi added. "But let's go forward. Let's go forward. I think that something wonderful is happening now, very credible. It's 100 years, almost 100 years, since women got the right to vote. Here we are, almost 100 years later, and something very transformative is happening.”