stunning fall of Democratic Rep. John Conyers — who resigned Tuesday
amid a growing sexual-harassment scandal — has left confusion, anger,
resentment and bewilderment inside the ranks of the Congressional Black
Caucus, a group that Conyers helped found nearly four decades ago.
CBC members see a double standard at play. They won't say the treatment
of Conyers is racist, necessarily — and all express strong support for
his alleged victims — but they think white politicians accused of
similar misconduct like Blake Farenthold, Al Franken, Roy Moore and
Donald Trump get a "benefit of the doubt" that black politicians don't
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members believe House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other
party leaders moved too quickly in calling on Conyers to resign and
should have let the process play out more, although they understand the
pressure she was facing. And still another faction thinks Conyers'
declining health and mental acuity after more than 52 years in Congress
led to the debacle, despite evidence that Conyers allegedly had been
harassing female staffers for years.
There is also significant
anger within the CBC, aimed at one of their own: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
(D-Texas). Conyers was going to announce his retirement from Congress
last Friday. Then Monica Conyers, the congressman's wife, and Jackson
Lee got involved and stopped it from happening, said several Democratic
lawmakers and aides. That decision dragged out the controversy for five
days, although the delay ultimately allowed Conyers to endorse his son,
John Conyers III, for his seat. Ian Conyers, the congressman's
grand-nephew and a Michigan state senator, also may run, setting off an
"Certainly it seems as if there is indeed a
double standard," said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who was involved in
Conyers' retirement negotiations last week before Jackson Lee and Monica
Conyers derailed them. "When it happens to one of us, we're guilty
until proven innocent. They're just finally starting to talk about Blake
Farenthold, who is a member sitting here who paid out $84,000."
A former Farenthold aide, Lauren Greene, received that settlement payment
after filing a lawsuit against the Texas Republican claiming gender
discrimination and a hostile workplace, with sexual harassment a key
part of that claim.
“Do I think he was treated like everyone? No,
he wasn’t. I think it was an easy call for people to talk about him,”
added Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), CBC chairman. “You didn’t see
Speaker Ryan calling for the resignation of Blake Farenthold, who
settled a case. Conyers denies it; Franken admits it.” Franken, a
Democratic senator from Minnesota, has been accused of inappropriately
touching or attempting to forcibly kiss six women. Franken is now under
ethics investigation but has refused to resign.
"It's a horrible
situation, and if the allegations are true, then retirement or
resignation was appropriate," Richmond added. "The problem for me was I
had the congressman vehemently denying it, and I have very
"When the deal goes down, John isn't
well. He was beginning to suffer memory loss, and physically, he isn't
well," said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who faced an ethics
investigation and lawsuit over sexual harassment five years ago, both of
which were later dismissed. "But sure, there are members of the
Congressional Black Caucus who feel John was done in. I respect that,
but I don't have that feeling."
Conyers allegedly harassed several
former aides, including an ex-staffer who received a $27,000 settlement
using taxpayer funds. After initially seeming to downplay the
allegations against him, Pelosi quickly changed course, and by Thursday,
she was calling for Conyers to resign. Conyers — who had been
hospitalized for “stress-related” symptoms — refused to leave office
initially, and there were signs he intended to try to fight off an
Ethics Committee investigation.
“Congressman Conyers has served
in the Congress for more than five decades, and shaped some of the most
consequential legislation of the last half century,” Pelosi said in a
statement. “But no matter how great the legacy, it is no license to
harass or discriminate.”
“This was as much about Pelosi’s own
politics as it was about Conyers,” said a CBC member, speaking on the
condition of anonymity. “I think she was forced into it, and I think it
was very unfortunate.” Pelosi has come under fire for not taking a
harder line against Conyers from the start, especially amid a broader
push across the country to crack down on sexual harassment and assault.
Richmond, for his part, doesn’t blame Pelosi. “I don’t think she was
unfair to him,” Richmond said. “Part of it was unfortunately he got sick
and went in the hospital and couldn’t defend himself. But only he knows
and the victims know what happened. Looking at the amount of victims …
it was troubling, and there was no way around it.”
scenes, there was an attempt to end this controversy last week, yet it
fell apart under pressure from Monica Conyers and Jackson Lee.
to lawmakers and aides, Fudge had brokered an arrangement that would
save some face for Conyers while removing a big problem for Democrats.
After some delicate negotiations, Fudge was going to read a letter on
the House floor last Friday announcing Conyers would retire at the end
By calling it “retirement” and not "resignation,"
the move would give Conyers a “last shred of dignity,” said one source
familiar with the discussions. Conyers would have time to clean out his
Capitol Hill and Detroit offices. In return, Conyers would avoid an
investigation by the House Ethics Committee that could lead to censure
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Jackson Lee and Monica Conyers weighed in against the deal, and it was
taken off the table, dragging out the scandal, said the sources.
“People are furious with her,” one CBC member said of Jackson Lee. “Absolutely furious.”
When asked about her interactions with Monica Conyers, Jackson Lee said
she “cannot comment on anything involving Mr. Conyers. I am not Mr.
Jackson Lee added: “I have not spoken with Mr. Conyers. I have nothing to do with his decision.”
Jackson Lee would not discuss any conversation with Monica Conyers, who has emerged as a key player in the saga.
Conyers was seen by CBC members and Democratic aides as the driving
force behind Conyers' refusal to resign. Some lawmakers even speculate
that Monica Conyers was trying to position herself or one of her sons to
run for the seat, which is what eventually happened.
Conyers berated reporters staking out the family home in Detroit last
week. “Do you all go and stalk other people’s houses?’’ she asked
reporters, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Do you go and stalk
white people’s houses or just come to the black neighborhoods and stalk
The couple met when Monica Conyers was an aide on his
campaign in the late 1980s. They were married in 1990 and have two
children. She was elected to the Detroit City Council in 2005.
2009, Monica Conyers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in
connection with a Detroit sludge-hauling scandal. As a member of the
City Council two years earlier, she cast the deciding vote in favor of
awarding a $1.2 billion contract to Synagro Technologies. She ended up
serving 27 months in federal prison in West Virginia.