With Conyers Resignation, Black Lawmakers Say White Politicians Accused of Sexual Misconduct Have Been Treated Differently

CBC members won't say the treatment of Rep. John Conyers was racist necessarily, but they think white politicians accused of similar misconduct get a "benefit of the doubt." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
CBC members won’t say the treatment of Rep. John Conyers was racist necessarily, but they think white politicians accused of similar misconduct get a “benefit of the doubt.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The 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.

Many 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 enjoy.

Some 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 intrafamily battle.

“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 credible-sounding victims.”

“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.”

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