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Rep. Ruben Kihuen won’t seek reelection amid sexual harassment allegations

Rep. Ruben Kihuen. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) will not seek reelection next year amid allegations that he sexually harassed women, making him the seventh  — and youngest — member of Congress felled by reports of misconduct since October.

Once considered a rising star in Democratic politics, Kihuen announced Saturday that he will leave Congress at the end of his first term.

“I want to state clearly again that I deny the allegations in question,” Kihuen, 37, said in a statement. “However, the allegations that have surfaced would be a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a reelection campaign. Therefore, it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to complete my term in Congress and not seek reelection.”

The announcement, first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, came the day after the House Ethics Committee said it had launched an investigation into Kihuen’s behavior. He plans to cooperate with the probe and looks forward to “clearing my name,” according to his statement.

Kihuen’s plan to not seek reelection is the latest sign of the reckoning over sexual harassment allegations on Capitol Hill. Leaders are grappling with how to address an increasing number of accusations against members and staff, as well as how to improve the system for reporting workplace violations in congressional offices.

Kihuen has been accused of making unwanted advances toward multiple women, including an employee on his 2016 congressional campaign and a lobbyist during his time as a state legislator.

After the first set of allegations, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called for him to step aside.

“I’ve asked for him to resign. I’ve asked for him to resign right from the start,” Pelosi said Thursday at a news conference.

Kihuen has faced growing pressure from leaders to step down as allegations continued to mount in recent days. Democrats hope to use sexual harassment as a cudgel against President Trump and Republicans in the 2018 election cycle, and are working to enforce a zero-tolerance policy within their ranks.

On Friday, BuzzFeed reported that a woman who worked at Kihuen’s condo building in Las Vegas said he made inappropriate comments toward her and sent flirtatious text messages. And just after news of Kihuen’s plans broke Saturday, the Nevada Independent published allegations from a woman who works for a firm that did business with Kihuen’s campaign. She said he made unwanted advances, including rubbing her lower back and kissing her face several times at a fundraiser.

BuzzFeed previously had reported that Kihuen’s former campaign finance director, identified only as “Samantha,” said he propositioned her for dates and twice touched her thighs without consent. When that story came out, Kihuen apologized for any behavior that made the woman feel uncomfortable.

The second set of allegations came from an unnamed lobbyist, who told the Nevada Independent that Kihuen touched her thighs and buttocks without consent and sent her hundreds of suggestive text messages, which the Independent reviewed. The lobbyist said the two never dated.

Kihuen, at that time, told the news outlet that he would not comment on his dating “relationships” as a state legislator.

In his decision, Kihuen joins Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), who announced Thursday that he won’t seek reelection amid allegations of sexual harassment. Farenthold has denied engaging in improper conduct, but faced mounting reports of misbehavior from former staff members. He settled a sexual harassment complaint with his former communications director in 2014.

Other members to recently step aside over harassment allegations include Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who resigned after multiple former aides accused him of unwanted advances and mistreatment, and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who said this month he would leave Capitol Hill in the “coming weeks” after several women said he touched them inappropriately. Conyers has denied wrongdoing. Franken, who has apologized, denied some allegations while saying he remembered other situations differently from his accusers.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) announced he would resign effective Jan. 31, after House officials learned that he had asked two female employees to bear his child as a surrogate.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) last month announced that he will not seek another term after news reports revealed the longtime congressman had carried on extramarital relationships with multiple women before his 2015 divorce.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) in October resigned after a news report claimed that the married Republican had asked a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair to get an abortion.

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.