When it comes to sexual harassment, women do not have an ally in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) on Sunday stepped down from the House Judiciary Committee amid accusations of sexual harassment against female staffers.
Shortly before his announcement, Pelosi strongly defended the congressman and called into question the women who accused him of misconduct.
“We are strengthened by due process,” Pelosi said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” “Just because someone is accused — and was it one accusation, is it two? John Conyers is an icon in our country. He’s done a great deal to protect women.”
“The fact is, as John reviews his case, which he knows, which I don’t, I believe he will do the right thing,” she said.
When asked if “the right thing” is to resign, Pelosi wouldn’t provide an answer.
“He will do the right thing,” she repeated.
Pelosi also did not say she believed the women accusing Conyers.
“I do not know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward,” Pelosi said.
One woman who filed a sexual harassment complaint against Conyers in 2014 was forced to sign a confidentiality agreement, according to Lisa Bloom, the complainant’s attorney.
BuzzFeed News reportedly obtained four signed affidavits pertaining to Conyers. According to the publication, Conyers made unwanted sexual advances toward some of his women staffers and touched and caressed them. In 2015 Conyers reportedly reached a $27,000 settlement with a former female staffer who claimed she was fired for not engaging with Conyers sexually.
“I was basically blackballed. There was nowhere I could go,” the woman told BuzzFeed when explaining why she agreed to the settlement. She spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
To Pelosi, appearances take precedence over a man who exploited his power to take advantage of women being removed from said position.
According to Politico, Pelosi “wanted Conyers to leave the high-profile post but didn’t want to be seen as forcing him out.”
“Privately, Pelosi has been working behind the scenes with leaders of the CBC and Conyers to figure out his next steps. One senior Democratic aide said she was trying ‘to lay groundwork for him to step aside gracefully,’” Politico reported.
Apparently, the consequences for sexual harassment in Pelosi’s book depend on who the accused is. She said in the same interview of former President Bill Clinton’s own sexual harassment scandal, “I think it is a generational change. Let me say the concern 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.”
She also downplayed the groping accusations against Democratic Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).
“I don’t believe you can equate Senator Franken with Roy Moore. It is two different things,” she said.
Moore currently faces mounting allegations of sexual misconduct and assault with teenagers while in his thirties. While the allegations against him are different in nature than those against Franken, they still constitute sexual harassment.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
And to play down the significance of any case of sexual harassment or abuse could discourage future victims from coming forward, as well as muddle the definition of what is and is not sexual harassment. For instance, according to a Cosmopolitan survey of women aged 18 to 34, among women who said they have never been sexually harassed at work, 16 percent responded “yes” when asked if they have ever had a sexually explicit or sexist remark spoken to them at work.
Only after receiving immense backlash for her “Meet the Press” interview did Pelosi release a more affirmative statement against Conyers.
“Zero tolerance means consequences,” she said.
“We are at a watershed moment on this issue, and no matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment. I commend the brave women coming forward.”
Conyers, the House of Representative’s longest-serving member, is currently being investigated by the House Ethics Committee. He denied the allegations against him in a statement, calling them the result of “documents reportedly paid for by a partisan alt-right blogger.”