Rep. John Conyers Jr. retires, ending a half-century in Congress
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said he was retiring on Dec. 5, after facing multiple sexual harassment allegations spanning two decades. He endorsed his son to replace him. (Jenny Starrs,Joyce Koh/The Washington Post) December 5 at 2:39 PM
Facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) resigned as Congressâs longest-serving member on Tuesday, becoming the first lawmaker to step down as Capitol Hill grapples with allegations of inappropriate behavior by lawmakers.
Conyers, who represented the Detroit area for 52 years, yielded to mounting pressure from Democratic leaders to step aside as a growing number of female former aides accused him of unwanted advances and mistreatment. He has denied wrongdoing.
From a hospital in Detroit, the 88-year-old congressman said he was âputting his retirement plans togetherâ and endorsed his s on John Conyers III to replace him. Another Conyers family member has already declared his intention to run for the seat, raising the specter of an intrafamily contest.
Asked about the harassment allegations, Conyers said his legacy âcanât be compromised or diminished in any way by what weâre going through now.â
âThis, too, shall pass,â Conyers told a local radio station in an interview. âMy legacy will continue through my children.â
Conyersâs abrupt departure marks the end of a career that spanned the Watergate hearings, impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the debate over a national health-care system. Conyers influenced debates over each issue as a member and, eventually, the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. He recently stepped aside as the panelâs ranking Democrat.
Conyers is currently in the hospital for what his attorney has described as a stress-related illness. His family has not provided further details.
Described by supporters as an icon of liberal policymaking, Conyers was revered on Capitol Hill as a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. The group declined last week to call for his resignation, pitting its members against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said he must leave Congress.
Conyersâs accusers described sexual advances and inappropriate remarks
Conyersâs resignation comes as his colleagues grapple with how to address the growing public outcry over sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, which some female lawmakers and aides have described as rampant.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is facing multiple allegations of inappropriate touching. He has apologized, and he suggested in a recent statement that any unwanted touching was not intentional.
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) said Monday that he would reimburse taxpayers after it was revealed that he use d $84,000 in public funds to settle a sexual harassment complaint. He has denied wrongdoing.
And Pelosi called on Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) to resign after his former finance director alleged that he made unwanted advances toward her on the campaign trail. Kihuen, who has not denied the allegations, apologized for any comments or actions that made the staffer âuncomfortable.â
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the acting ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he was âsaddenedâ that Conyersâs career had to end under a cloud of suspicion.
âWith that said, there can be no tolerance for behavior that subjects women to the kind of conduct that has been alleged,â Nadler said in a statement.
Now that Conyers has resigned, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) will call a special election to replace him â" an election that could pit two Conyers family members against each other.
The grandson of Conyersâs brother indicated Tuesday that h e plans to run. Ian Conyers, a Michigan state senator whose candidacy was first reported by the New York Times, was elected in 2016 to represent part of Detroit.
âI look forward to our local and national media taking a thorough look at all candidates to replace my uncle @RepJohnConyers,â he wrote Tuesday on Twitter.
He did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Less is known about John Conyers III, the retired congressmanâs preferred successor and his son with former Detroit City Council member Monica Conyers. A writer and aspiring rapper, he is described as a âpartner at Detroitâs first minority run hedge fundâ and a âseasoned multi-discipline consultantâ on his contributor page at the Huffington Post.
He has defended his father in several recent media interviews as more women emerged accusing Conyers of misconduct.
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âIt âs disconcerting to me to see the way my father is being treated after heâs given so much to this country â" not just for black people but for people alike. He fights for everyone,â John Conyers III told local reporters last week.
Snyder will begin reviewing possible election dates once he receives Conyersâs official letter of resignation, a spokesman for the governor emailed Tuesday.
Outside the Conyers home, longtime Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle said it is not clear that either John Conyers III or Ian Conyers will win the seat.
âWe are on the verge of the biggest free-for-all politically youâve ever seen in Detroit,â Riddle said at a news conference. âThere should not be an automatic ascension to that congressional seat because your last name is Conyers.â
Black activists continued to defend Conyers, arguing that âwhite hypocrites and phony liberalsâ found it easier to call for his resignation than Frankenâs becaus e Conyers is African American.
âYouâre going to catch pure hell, Democratic Party, getting out the vote in Detroit,â Riddle said.
Conyersâs legacy was a complicating factor for his colleagues as they weighed how to respond to the misconduct allegations.
In 1964, when he won his first term, Conyers was one of just five black members of Congress, and the first to represent the city of Detroit. He hired Rosa Parks, who served on his staff until her retirement in 1988, and he backed the major planks of President Lyndon B. Johnsonâs âGreat Societyâ program, including the Voting Rights Act.
In April 1968, four days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Conyers introduced the first bill proposing a holiday in honor of the civil rights icon. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, he made a successful push for impeachment proceedings against President Richard M. Nixon.
In recent years, Conyers lent his name and clout to s everal progressive bills, not least the Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act. In 2017, a majority of Democrats â" for the first time â" co-sponsored the measure, putting them on the record for universal health care.
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Rep. RaÃºl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a longtime co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, said the Conyers-backed bills â" which had no chance of passage in this Congress â" would be adopted by other members. âPeople can pick up the load,â he said.
In and out of the House majority, Conyers established himself as a fierce critic of Republican policies. During the George W. Bush administration, he held unofficial hearings to challenge the results of the 2004 election and to investigate whether the Iraq War had been launched under false pretenses.
While in Congress, Conyers ran twice for mayor of Detroit, but lost both bids in the Democratic p rimary. He had more success on Capitol Hill, where he took over as chairman of the House Oversight Committee in 1989. Six years later, he became the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, a role he held until late last month.
Conyersâs decision to step aside comes as Congress struggles to explain its secretive process for investigating and settling claims about sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct.
Under a system created more than 20 years ago, victims must undergo counseling and mediation before they can pursue legal action against members who mistreat them. Settlements are paid out of a special Treasury Department fund designated for the purpose or out of membersâ office budgets.
Conyers settled a sexual harassment complaint in 2015 out of his own budget, disguising the payments as severance. He has denied wrongdoing in the case.
âWe take these in stride,â he said Tuesday of the harassment accusations. âThis goes with the issue of politics, the game of politics which weâre in.â
Mike DeBonis in Washington and Steve Friess in Detroit contributed to this report.
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