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More Calls For Conyers To Resign

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

John Conyers, the longest serving member in the current U.S. Congress, is resisting calls for him to resign. He's facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has joined a chorus of House members wanting Conyers to go. Notably, that list includes South Carolina's James Clyburn who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which Conyers helped to found. Meanwhile, Conyers was hospitalized in Detroit yesterday. This even as one of his accusers offered more details of his alleged behavior with her. NPR's Don Gonyea joins us from Detroit in Conyers' district. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, David.

GREENE: So help me understand this. Over the weekend, Nancy Pelosi called Conyers an icon because of his work in the civil rights movement, his tenure as the dean of the Congress. She called for an ethics investigation, but that was it. Now she says it's time for him to step down. What changed here?

GONYEA: Well, she was widely criticized for those remarks. She made those on Sunday. Now she says she's looked closely at what the allegations against him are. Some of the women who have accused him have come forward publicly to describe the congressman's behavior with them. And Pelosi now takes a much tougher line and says it's clear what Conyers should do. She spoke to reporters at the Capitol.

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NANCY PELOSI: Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone. No matter how great the legacy, it's no license to harass or discriminate. In fact, it makes it even more disappointing.

GONYEA: And Conyers' lawyer did respond to that yesterday saying Nancy Pelosi didn't elect John Conyers, nor did anybody in Washington, and they won't fire him - that the congressman answers to the people of his district. He also noted the difference between a congressional seat and, say, someone in the private sector where people can be fired fast like Matt Lauer this week. That can't happen to an elected official, he said. There needs to be more of due process.

GREENE: OK, so that coming from Conyers' lawyer. Now, there was another big development in this story yesterday involving one of Conyers' accusers, right?

GONYEA: Right. It's Marion Brown, a former Conyers staffer. She had entered into a settlement paying her some $27,000 with a requirement that she not discuss any of the details. Well, she is now talking after Conyers insisted her allegations are false. She was on NBC's "Today" show yesterday. And she taped an interview that will air this morning on "Detroit Today." That's a program on Detroit Public Radio. She described repeated and persistent inappropriate sexual advances by the congressman over years, and she stressed that she had no reason to lie about Conyers.

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MARION BROWN: He's African-American. He's a Democrat. I am, too. I'm not taking away from the fact that he is a civil rights icon. You know, his personal behavior is unacceptable.

GONYEA: Now, I was also talking to a lot of Conyers' constituents, and he does have a lot of support there. Some, like 63-year-old retiree Irma Poindexter, told me that Conyers has earned her trust by the way he has fought for this district for so long. And she says a settlement of a past case is no admission of guilt.

IRMA POINDEXTER: Sometimes you pay money for it to go away because you want to continue to do your job and not focus on that and focus on the job and the community, working for the people.

GONYEA: We spoke at a community center in northwest Detroit. I asked her about all the calls for Conyers to resign. She said he should not, but, but - and give a listen.

POINDEXTER: Well, he's 87 years old.

GONYEA: Eighty-eight.

POINDEXTER: Eighty-eight, so I think he should retire in the next running. But I don't think he should leave at this point.

GONYEA: Retire but not resign.

POINDEXTER: Right. Retire but not resign.

GONYEA: Finish out his term?

POINDEXTER: Yes, I think that's what he should do.

GREENE: All right, Don Gonyea speaking to a voter in Michigan there. And, Don, we should say, Conyers was hospitalized yesterday. What do we know about how he's doing?

GONYEA: We haven't gotten updates. But his attorney did tell us yesterday that he was taken to the hospital, that he's suffering from stress-related symptoms and that his focus right now is on his health and on getting better.

But I can tell you, when I talked to people out in the district, there was something I heard a lot from a lot of them who were kind of shocked when I even told them he was in the hospital. They were getting that news from me. They said that the congressman is facing a double standard, that there is this loud call for him to step down quickly, and they don't see that same push to remove white politicians accused of sexual harassment. And they'd like to point to President Trump as exhibit A in that.

GREENE: NPR's Don Gonyea speaking to us from Detroit. Don, thanks.

GONYEA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.