The sudden prominence of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment ought to be a gift to Democrats. With women making up a sizable majority of the Democratic base, with a Republican president who’s been accused by at least a dozen women of sexual misconduct and caught on tape admitting it, and with a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama playing down a history of a perverted interest in underaged girls, Democrats ought to own the issue.
Owning it, though, means applying a consistent spotlight of scrutiny, even when Democrats stand among the accused. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., appeared Sunday on “Meet the Press” as a profile in squishiness. This is a Party that never met an opportunity it couldn’t squander.
Former President Bill Clinton’s history and Sen. Al Franken’s, D-Minn., recent problems are just part of the mess. Pelosi’s more urgent issue was a Buzzfeed report that says Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the 88-year-old dean of the House, had used $27,000 in taxpayer money to buy the silence of a former aide who alleged she was fired because she resisted Conyers’ sexual advances.
Pelosi said: “something very transformative is happening. That is, women are saying zero tolerance. No more. And we’re going to speak out on it. And this is so wholesome, so refreshing, so different.”
What followed was less refreshing. Asked about Conyers, Pelosi sounded like an Alabama Republican.
“We are strengthened by due process,” she said. “Just because someone is accused, and was it one accusation? Was it two? … John Conyers is an icon in our country. He’s done a great deal to protect women, such as supporting the Violence Against Women Act. … He did great work on that.”
Instead of saying, “I believe her” of the women who have made similar accusations against Conyers, she said: “I don’t know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward.”
Pelosi is being squeezed by various House Democratic factions, including the Black Caucus, of which Conyers was a founder. Young Turks have had it in not only for Conyers but also for Pelosi, saying new faces are needed in leadership. Pelosi tried to tiptoe along the tightrope. She fell spectacularly.
On Sunday, Conyers stepped down as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee while his case is considered by the House Ethics Committee. If Democrats regain control of the House next year, the Judiciary Committee is where impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump would begin. Conyers would be the wrong face for that.
This ought to be simple: Legislation has been introduced to end the culture of secrecy on Capitol Hill. If a member of Congress is found to have used taxpayer dollars as hush money, he needs to be identified. Then he needs to go. Zero tolerance should mean just that.
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