Conyers Leaves Committee Leadership Post Amid Sexual Misconduct Claims
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Sexual harassment allegations have brought down some big names in media. Among those who have lost their jobs - Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, also NPR's own former senior vice president for news Mike Oreskes. But until this weekend, no member of Congress had lost a position of power.
Yesterday, though, Representative John Conyers announced he would step down from his minority leadership of the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers is facing accusations that he made repeated sexual advances toward female staffers. Although he settled with an accuser two years ago, he denies he did anything wrong. Representative Zoe Lofgren joins us. She's a Democrat from here in California who serves on the Judiciary Committee with Congressman Conyers. Congresswoman, thanks for taking the time this morning.
ZOE LOFGREN: You bet.
GREENE: So should Congressman Conyers keep his job in Congress?
LOFGREN: Well, I think he did the right thing by stepping aside while the Ethics Committee takes a look at this.
GREENE: Stepping aside from his leadership post. But I wonder if you think he should continue on as a member of Congress as these allegations swirl.
LOFGREN: Well, I think we can wait until either more material comes forward, if that happens, or if the Ethics Committee finishes promptly, I would hope, their investigation. He's served for more than 50 years. He contests the allegations. They were given to the BuzzFeed organization by a political operative. We want to make sure that they're accurate. A little due process doesn't hurt.
The other thing - you know, it's a little bit different when you have an elected official in this way. If you're a company, you hire and fire somebody, and they engage in this conduct. You can them. But in the case of somebody who's elected, the people who hire and fire them are their voters. And so you really have to have a process to undo what the voters did, I think. And it should not take a long time for the committee to come to some conclusion. And then we'll see where we stand.
GREENE: May I ask you if you have experienced sexual harassment in Congress? Have you been affected personally in some way?
LOFGREN: I have not been harassed in Congress. I have received sexual harassment prior to my service in Congress. And I've never been raped, but I've been assaulted. So yes, this is something that's unfortunately not complete news to me.
GREENE: Do you think that Congress should handle the situation differently? I mean, the Office of Compliance, which handles harassment...
LOFGREN: Oh, absolutely.
GREENE: ...Claims, has come under fire by some members for protecting the institution and not victims.
LOFGREN: Absolutely. We need changes in the system - dramatic changes. One of the things that I'm proposing is that if someone comes and settles a sexual harassment case or some other very serious matter, that settlement never gets referred to the Ethics Committee. Well, that has to change. I mean, misbehavior that could result in sanctions by the Ethics Committee has to be sent to the Ethics Committee. Right now it's - I've never seen any of these settlements, I don't think. I was not aware of them. I don't know of any other member of Congress who was aware of them. And that has to stop.
GREENE: These are settlements that the details of which are not transparent and made public. So I wonder, do you think this is just the beginning? Are we going to see a lot more allegations and maybe even resignations come forward in Congress soon?
LOFGREN: I don't know. It could happen. Certainly, every day, we turn on the news, and we hear of some other public figure in business and media and now in two cases in the House - but certainly in state politics, where there are these serious allegations. So we're - I think we're in a new day, I hope, where people who have been wronged can step forward.
GREENE: Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat representing San Jose, Calif., joining us on the line. Congresswoman, thank you.
LOFGREN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.