Longest-serving US congressman faces new pressure to resign after fourth accuser alleges harassment

US Rep. John Conyers speaking at a session during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 45th annual legislative conference on Sept 18, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - The political future of Congress's longest-serving member, Democrat representative John Conyers, appeared precarious late Tuesday (Nov 28) as party leaders pressured him to resign over allegations he sexually harassed multiple female aides.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are encouraging the veteran lawmaker to step down as soon as this week after a fourth accuser came forward Tuesday morning, according to a senior Democratic aide who asked for anonymity in order to describe private conversations.

Though Conyers denies wrongdoing and has insisted he will not resign, he stepped down as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee on Sunday. The move was seen as a concession to critics who said he should no longer occupy such a powerful perch as allegations mount.

The 88-year-old the Michigan representative was not spotted Tuesday at evening votes, where members of the CBC held a rare huddle on the House floor.

Several members of the group declined to say publicly whether Conyers should step down.

"Resignation is a personal matter," said Representative Cedric Richmond, the chairman of the CBC. "That's a personal decision for him and his family."

"I don't think we should rush to judgment on decisions," said Representative Bennie Thompson, ranking member of House Homeland Security Committee. "It's his decision to make, and I would look forward to him at some point making that decision."

Conyers, an icon of liberal policymaking, has become a focus in discussions about sexual harassment in Congress, as decades of misconduct and a pattern of secret settlements between lawmakers and staffers come to light on Capitol Hill.

While a growing number of female lawmakers are urging congressional leaders to respond swiftly, Conyers's seniority and participation in the civil rights movement have given some colleagues pause about calling for his resignation.

Pelosi called him "an icon" on Sunday talk shows, only to face immediate criticism from women's rights advocates and others.

Saying she has "looked up to Rep. Conyers for decades," Representative Pramila Jayapal said Tuesday he nonetheless must step down given the pattern of misconduct alleged by former aides.

"This is a watershed moment where, finally, the country seems to be waking up and realizing we need to have a zero tolerance policy toward sexual harassment," Jayapal, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

"I believe these women, I see the pattern and there is only one conclusion - Mr Conyers must resign," she stated.

A report published Tuesday in the Detroit News could make it harder for Conyers to defy such calls to step aside. The paper reported that Deanna Maher, who worked for Conyers between 1997 and 2005, said he propositioned her once and inappropriately touched her twice.

Multiple allegations have surfaced since last week, when BuzzFeed reported Conyers reached a financial settlement in 2015 with a former employee who said she was fired for refusing his sexual advances.

In court documents filed earlier this year, a second woman, Maria Reddick, accused Conyers of harassing her while she worked as his scheduler.

And in an interview with The Washington Post, a well-known lawyer specialising in congressional ethics accused Conyers of harassing and verbally abusing her when she worked for him in the 1990s.

The House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into Conyers's behaviour, and on Tuesday, Pelosi urged the panel to probe the sexual harassment allegations "expeditiously as well as fairly."

"As one who served seven years on the Ethics Committee, I know that the demands on staff and resources can at times be overstretched. Should you need any additional resources to fairly and swiftly pursue these investigations, please make that need known," Pelosi wrote in a letter to the committee's leaders Tuesday afternoon.

A call to Conyers' attorney was not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

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