A congressman under scrutiny for allegations that he sexually harassed female staff members and created a hostile work environment announced Thursday that he will not seek reelection next year.
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), who settled a complaint with his former communications director but denied wrongdoing in the case, plans to serve out the rest of his term but will not seek reelection in 2018, he announced Thursday in a video posted to Facebook. His decision makes him the sixth lawmaker to fall over allegations of misconduct as Congress grapples with how to address what some aides have described as a culture of inappropriate behavior on Capitol Hill.
Farenthold, who represents the 27th Congressional District along the Texas Gulf Coast, including Corpus Christi, apologized Thursday in the five-minute video.
"I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional," he said, carefully reading a prepared statement. "It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes . . . and I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts."
The announcement came the morning after the Nevada Independent published new allegations of inappropriate behavior by Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.). The freshman congressman, once considered a rising star in Nevada politics, has refused to step down amid calls from party leaders.
Farenthold continued to deny charges from his former communications director, Lauren Greene, who accused him of making sexually inappropriate comments designed to gauge whether she was interested in an extramarital relationship. And he stated his belief that he broke no laws.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said he supported Farenthold's decision, citing "disconcerting" new accounts of his behavior toward staff members.
"I think he's making the right decision to retire," Ryan said Thursday at a news conference. "I think he's made the right decision that he's going to be leaving Congress."
Ryan and other congressional leaders have faced pressure to take a hard line against the growing list of lawmakers accused of inappropriate behavior. Last week, Ryan successfully urged Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) to resign immediately after allegations that Franks had asked two female staff members to bear a child for him as a surrogate.
On Thursday, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, also said he supports Farenthold's decision.
"Congress must work harder to hold ourselves to a higher standard, which is why the House took action to ensure this body is a safe and constructive workplace for all," Stivers said in a statement. "However, there is still more work to be done."
Stivers added that he is confident that the party will retain Farenthold's seat in next year's midterm elections.
Farenthold's pending retirement comes after voters rejected Republican nominee Roy Moore in a special Senate election in Alabama on Tuesday night. Moore allegedly pursued romantic relationships with teenage girls, including a 14-year-old, while in his 30s. His loss was a major victory for Democrats, putting the party one seat closer to regaining its Senate majority.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) renewed her calls Thursday for Kihuen to step aside, in light of the Nevada Independent report.
"He wants to go through the ethics process. That is his right to do," she said at a news conference. "I've asked for him to resign. I've asked for him to resign right from the start."
Late Wednesday, the Las Vegas-based news website published the anonymous account of a female lobbyist who said Kihuen made unwanted sexual advances toward her from 2013 to 2015 when he was a state senator. The woman said that the two never dated but that Kihuen touched her thighs and buttocks without consent and sent her hundreds of suggestive text messages, which the Independent reviewed.
Kihuen, who has said he would welcome a House ethics investigation of the allegations, told the Independent that he would not comment on his dating "relationships" as a state legislator.
Farenthold stood firm in the face of unflattering news stories and an investigation by the House Ethics Committee before choosing to retire.
In her 2014 lawsuit, Greene said another Farenthold aide told her that the lawmaker admitted to having sexual fantasies and "wet dreams" about her, a claim he has denied. She was fired for complaining, she alleged.
Greene's allegations reentered the news this month when the Committee on House Administration revealed that a House office had settled a complaint of sexual harassment for $84,000 in 2014. The Washington Post and other news outlets confirmed that it was Farenthold's settlement with Greene.
Although the terms of the agreement prevent Greene from speaking about Farenthold's behavior, she said last month that pursuing legal action has had professional repercussions.
"I was told this would be career suicide," she said in an interview with CNN. "As soon as I decided to do this, I had to come to the conclusion that D.C. was no longer going to be in the cards."
CNN also reported Wednesday that another former aide, Michael Rekola, approached the Ethics Committee with allegations that Farenthold was verbally abusive and sexually demeaning to aides.
Greene's attorney, Les Alderman, said Greene is "heartened by the fact that other former employees are coming forward with their accounts."
"She is further encouraged that individual voices are eliciting real change," Alderman said in an emailed statement. "Our country is experiencing a real reckoning, and she looks on today's decision as a step in the right direction."
A spokesman for the Texas secretary of state said Farenthold missed the deadline to withdraw from his district's primary race, so his name is likely to remain on the ballot.
"Barring any challenge to the candidate's application before the mail-in ballots go out in late January, his name will still be on the ballot for the March 6 Primary," Sam Taylor wrote in an email.
Allegations of misconduct on Capitol Hill have spurred debate over how to change the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) to better protect congressional employees in the workplace and when they file complaints.
In a letter Thursday, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) urged Senate leaders to support such changes and to increase funding for anti-harassment training.
Across the Capitol, Committee on House Administration Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) plans to release draft legislation next week to address concerns about the CAA, a spokeswoman for the committee said Thursday.
Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Ed O'Keefe and Kimberly Kindy contributed to this report.