House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is drawing fire from people on her own side of the political spectrum on Sunday, thanks to comments she made about Rep. John Conyers on an episode of Meet The Press.
Conyers, a longtime Michigan Democrat, is currently embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal, amid reports that he secretly reached a settlement with a former female staffer. The payout, roughly $27,000 according to BuzzFeed, was reportedly made with taxpayer money, and it was not a matter of public knowledge.
Pelosi, the leader of the House Democrats and a former Speaker, opened herself up to fierce criticism and outcry Sunday when she failed to call for Conyers’ resignation, instead referring to him as an “icon” and suggesting that his accusers “haven’t really come forward.”
Meet The Press host Chuck Todd introduced the question by noting that Pelosi has referred to the current climate on sexual harassment and predatory behavior as “zero tolerance,” asking her what that means for the 27-term congressman. Pelosi did not come out with a strong statement about Conyers, however.
“We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone was accused, and was it one accusation, was it two, I think there has to be―John Conyers is an icon in our country,” Pelosi said, defending the 88-year-old representative.
“He’s done a great deal to protect women, Violence Against Women Act, which the right wing is now quoting me as praising him for his work on that, and he did great work on that.”
Pelosi continued that she was confident Conyers would “do the right thing” as his case is reviewed, but stopped short of referencing resignation. Todd then asked bluntly whether Pelosi believed his accusers, and she gave the following answer.
“I don’t know who they are, do you? They have not really come forward,” Pelosi said.
The denizens of social media were, by and large, unhappy with Pelosi’s comment—especially in the broader context of the #MeToo movement, which has illuminated countless women recounting stories of being sexually harassed or assaulted.
Nancy Pelosi's interview with Chuck Todd this morning is a devastating showpiece of our era's bipartisan moral blindness.— Elise Jordan (@Elise_Jordan) November 26, 2017
Dems had an opportunity to lead on sexual assault and are completely blowing it. https://t.co/pu2OcaWKvQ
When Nancy Pelosi isn't even on your side in a case where the perp is 88 yrs old and in a safe seat, why on earth would you report sexual harassment?— Laura McGann (@lkmcgann) November 26, 2017
Nancy Pelosi on MTP was pathetic and partisan regarding sexual harassment/assault.— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) November 26, 2017
How soon before Nancy Pelosi releases a statement "clarifying" her earlier comments and reiterating the need to believe victims?— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) November 26, 2017
Pelosi: I should probably condemn John Conyers— Ruthless (@Ruthless_SG) November 26, 2017
Also Pelosi: Don’t just defend him, call him an icon pic.twitter.com/itDdvLH5gb
Pelosi needs to go, full stop.— Angie (@angwohl) November 26, 2017
Democrats have lost the thread on sexual harassment.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 26, 2017
You can debate Franken as being a marginal case, I guess.
But the Conyers claims represent a serious abuse of power—one that required a legal settlement—and Pelosi doesn't see them as a firing offense. https://t.co/10Km2FQisA
The way Pelosi is handling Conyers is symptomatic of a Democratic Party that has no accountability for its leaders.— Brad Reed (@bwreed) November 26, 2017
Surprise, surprise, Nancy Pelosi has stepped in it again pic.twitter.com/NDLbI3d809— Astral Sex Therapist & Demon Sperm Merchant (@TheLinoMarion) November 26, 2017
For the record, Pelosi’s remark about Conyers’ accusers not having come forward is not true. Although the accuser referenced in BuzzFeed’s report reached settlements in secret, one woman has gone public with her story. Melanie Sloan, an attorney and former aide to Conyers, said she was verbally abused by the Democratic congressman, and although she maintains she was not sexually harassed, calling herself “no shrinking violet,” she also claims he once summoned her for a meeting while in his underwear.
In response to the allegations and the scrutiny he faces, Conyers announced Sunday morning that he’s stepping down as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
CONYERS steps down as top dem on judiciary. pic.twitter.com/2ThUJpZIb8— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) November 26, 2017
The Democratic Party currently faces two highly visible sexual misconduct scandals: that of Conyers, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken. In both cases, party leadership has not called for resignations. The GOP, on the other hand, is facing vehement criticism and scrutiny over Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of child molestation and sexual assault. Moore denies the claims.
President Donald Trump, who has also faced more than a dozen allegations of sexually predatory behavior (allegations he’s angrily denied), effectively endorsed Moore earlier this week and again on Sunday despite the molestation claims.