Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has no immediate plans to resign and intends to fight allegations of sexual harassment and mistreatment from former female aides, his lawyer said Wednesday.
“The congressman is a very deliberate person and doesn’t want to make a hasty decision,” Michigan-based attorney Arnold Reed said in a phone interview. “These allegations are untrue, and Mr. Conyers wants the public to know they are untrue. We will weigh and continue to assess his options.”
The statement came as members of the Congressional Black Caucus declined to call for Conyers to step down, complicating efforts by Democratic leaders to ease the veteran lawmaker toward an exit.
“We are not urging John Conyers to resign,” CBC chairman Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re not. We think that is a decision for him and his family and his constituents to make.”
Conyers’s remained at home in Detroit as his colleagues in Washington grappled with how to address a growing public outcry about sexual harassment in Congress, which some female lawmakers have described as rampant. In a small step, the House approved legislation Wednesday mandating workplace harassment training for all members and staff.
But the political future of Conyers, 88, dominated discussions on Capitol Hill after a fourth woman accused the congressman of unwanted sexual advances when she worked for him. Conyers flew home abruptly Tuesday night after stepping aside as ranking Democrat of the House Judiciary Committee at the urging of House leaders.
Detroit station WDIV-TV, citing two unnamed sources, reported late Wednesday that Conyers intends to announce his decision not to run for reelection in January. Reached at his office, Reed said the report was based on rumor, not fact. “That is not true. That is not true,” he said.
Reed said he and Conyers did not discuss plans for the congressman to return to Washington during a Wednesday meeting.
“It’s been an ugly scene around their home,” Reed said. “When I went over there, [reporters] were out there like vultures. Mr. Conyers is awfully concerned about that. This does not involve his family.”
Conyers’s accusers continue to draw media attention. One of the women, Deanna Maher, described an alleged incident involving Conyers in a television interview Wednesday night.
“It was violent in my mind,” she told Fox News.
“For [Conyers] to grab you . . . and force you against the wall and stick his tongue down my throat at my age, which I was 61 at the time — that was pretty devastating. I can’t tell you how ashamed I felt. Dirty,” she said.
Only a few Democratic lawmakers have explicitly called for Conyers to step aside, and some allies urged caution as the House Ethics Committee examines the charges.
“I’ve seen cases where the allegations don’t have merit. We need a fair process,” said Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.), vice chair of the Democratic conference. “You don’t want character assassinations.”
Conyers and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has been accused of inappropriately touching several women, are now subjects of ethics investigations.
Franken, 66, returned to Washington on Monday from Thanksgiving break and apologized for his behavior.
Conyers’s decision to step aside from his committee post was seen as a concession to critics who said he should no longer occupy such a powerful perch as allegations of misconduct mount.
Asked Wednesday whether Conyers should resign, Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) declined to say.
“Look, I know what I would do if this happened to me,” Ryan said at a news conference. “I will leave it up to him to decide what he wants to do. I think he made the right decision in stepping down from his leadership position.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addressed the situation indirectly on Wednesday afternoon, before the House voted to mandate anti-harassment training.
“Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone,” Pelosi said in a floor speech. “No matter your contribution to our country, you do not get a pass to harass or discriminate. No matter how great the legacy, it is not a license to harass or abuse.”
Conyers’s legacy is a complicating factor for colleagues as they weigh how to respond to the misconduct allegations. His legislative seniority, influence on past policy debates and ties to the civil rights movement have made him a revered figure among House Democrats.
Confronted Wednesday by reporters, Richmond and Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) responded abruptly when one journalist noted that other prominent men accused of harassment — such as NBC's Matt Lauer and CBS's Charlie Rose — were fired or stepped down from their positions quickly after facing similar accusations.
“Who elected them?” said Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, as he boarded an elevator.
Later, members of the CBC refused to answer questions about Conyers as they exited a meeting. Inside the room, Conyers, Franken and other members who have dealt with harassment allegations were discussed.
“There was talk about how the system was probably created by men and not by a table that had diversity around it,” Richmond said.
Sexual harassment also consumed discussion at the House Democrats’ weekly closed-door caucus meeting, according to people who were present. Lawmakers discussed workplace issues facing Capitol Hill, including how congressional offices field, investigate and settle harassment and discrimination complaints.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), one of the few Democrats who has publicly called for Conyers to step down, joined Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday to introduce legislation to revamp the process for handling sexual harassment claims in Congress.
She left the Democrats’ meeting saying that leaders were focused on a proposal to require sexual harassment training but did not grapple with the Conyers issue.
“Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room,” Rice said. “I don’t have time for conversations that are not real, that are not going to advance the ball.”
Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) have also said Conyers should resign. "Obviously that's his decision, but I would think he should," Blumenauer said in an interview with C-SPAN on Wednesday morning.
Rice suggested that Ryan could advance the debate if he allowed a Conyers accuser bound by a confidentiality agreement to go public. “I’m calling on the speaker, who clearly has the power, to release her from her nondisclosure agreement,” Rice said. “We can’t say we stand for victims as a body if we hold her to a confidentiality agreement that allows her accuser — her abuser — to talk about her but leaves her in the lurch.”
The bill she unveiled with DeSantis and Blackburn, who is running for Senate, would eliminate the fund used to pay out harassment settlements, retroactively reveal who had settled and require those politicians to pay back the money with interest.
Mike DeBonis and Kimberly Kindy contributed to this report.