Dem leaders break with Pelosi over Conyers

The sexual harassment charges dogging Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersAbortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Democrats turn on Al Franken Michigan state senator to run for Congress MORE Jr. (D-Mich.) are splitting House Democratic leaders scrambling to contain the fallout. 

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Abortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Trump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting MORE (D-Calif.) is said to be working with other Democrats to nudge Conyers into retirement.

But that effort is too abrupt in the eyes of other Democratic leaders, who say they want to await the outcome of a House Ethics Committee investigation into the series of sexual harassment allegations lodged by four former Conyers staffers.

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“I don’t know all the facts, I don’t know the specific allegations,” Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol Wednesday. 

“It appears there is more than one complainant, which does heighten my sense there may be something there. But again, I can’t sit and judge a member and call for their resignation unless I’ve been party to hearing all of the evidence and hearing the defense of the evidence.”

That position is shared by other top Democrats, including Minority Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment House rejects Democrat's resolution to impeach Trump Pelosi, Hoyer: Now is not the time to consider impeachment MORE (D-Md.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), who stressed the party’s push for an expedited Ethics Committee investigation. 

“Calling for the resignation of someone doesn’t actually create the resignation,” Crowley said. “The reality is we have a process in place and we’re calling for expedited process of the Ethics Committee to bring this to the forefront, so there can be as much transparency as possible, recognizing the rights of … those who are bringing these very, very serious allegations before Mr. Conyers.” 

Pelosi, while leading the calls for an expedited Ethics investigation, is also said to be taking the issue a step further by working with unnamed members of the Congressional Black Caucus “to apply pressure to get Conyers to step down,” according to a senior Democratic aide.

A number of Democrats privately want Conyers to go, though only two — Reps. Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceLeading House Democrat: Franken and Conyers should resign FBI trying to ‘get in front’ of future threats of Russian interference, director says Conyers saga brings Dem tensions to a boil MORE (D-N.Y.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalThe nearly 60 Dems who voted for impeachment Conyers saga brings Dem tensions to a boil Democrat: Pelosi ‘ceded the moral high ground’ on sexual harassment MORE (D-Wash.) — have called publicly for Conyers to resign immediately.

Sánchez, a lawyer who said she prosecuted sexual harassment cases before coming to Congress, warned that acting too quickly could lead to the “character assassination” of those falsely accused.

“I have seen cases where there were [charges] without merit,” she said. “We want it to be a fair process for both [sides].”

The harassment issue was raised Wednesday morning during the Democrats’ weekly caucus meeting in the Capitol, with eight lawmakers speaking up on the topic, according to a Democratic aide. Sánchez characterized the discussion as “very fruitful.” Some other Democrats, though, saw things differently.  

Rice left the meeting early to protest what she said was insufficient attention to the issue. And Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellOvernight Cybersecurity: Flynn guilty plea brings Russia probe closer to White House | NSA worker admits to removing classified info | Dems revive data breach bill | Uber security managers step down State Dept insists cyber a priority despite office closure Trump-free Kennedy Center Honors avoids politics MORE (D-Mich.), who is supporting Conyers’s right to due process, was also critical. 

“There was not enough discussion in there,” she said, leaving the meeting.