Dem leaders break with Pelosi over Conyers

The sexual harassment charges dogging Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersConservative activist disrupts campaign event for Muslim candidates Michigan Dems elect state's first all-female statewide ticket for midterms Record numbers of women nominated for governor, Congress MORE Jr. (D-Mich.) are splitting House Democratic leaders scrambling to contain the fallout. 

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDem lawmakers slam Trump’s declassification of Russia documents as ‘brazen abuse of power’ Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Pelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor 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 HoyerDems' confidence swells with midterms fast approaching Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash Hoyer lays out government reform blueprint 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 RiceReforms can stop members of Congress from using their public office for private gain The Hill's Morning Report — Dems split on key issues but united against Trump Trump ally suspends reelection campaign MORE (D-N.Y.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalDem rep: Why shouldn’t Americans believe Trump is as corrupt as his friends? Sunday shows preview: Trump faces fallout after Manafort flips Dem lawmaker launches PAC to fund candidates who support 'Medicare for All' 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 DingellFormer Rep. John Dingell returns to Twitter after heart attack John Dingell suffers heart attack, said to be ‘in good spirits’ The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil 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.