Several Democrats Call For Conyers To Resign
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Let's move down Pennsylvania Avenue, where sexual misconduct shakes Congress. Democrats Al Franken, Minnesota senator, and Representative Ruben Kihuen of Nevada have both been accused of inappropriate conduct. But, of course, there's John Conyers, the longtime Democratic congressman from Michigan, who may be under more fire at the moment. A number of former staffers have accused Conyers of harassment and unwanted sexual advances. One Marion Brown had a $27,000 settlement that required her silence, which she broke on the "Today" show this week and Detroit Public Radio's Detroit Today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
MARION BROWN: He's a 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, he's just on the wrong side of - you know, his personal behavior is unacceptable.
SIMON: Pramila Jayapal represents much of Seattle in the U.S. House. And she was one of the first Democrats to call for Mr. Conyers to resign. And she joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us, Representative.
PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: John Conyers is hospitalized right now for stress. His lawyer said that the decision to step aside or not will be made in the next day or so. Do you wish him a speedy recovery and resignation?
JAYAPAL: I absolutely wish him a speedy recovery. And I can tell you this is very difficult for everybody. And I can't imagine what it's like for John Conyers. This is a man who has spent his life doing many wonderful things - and even for somebody like me, who, as an immigrant rights activist, looked up to him for decades on the outside before I came to Congress. But the reality is that, you know, we cannot accept this on any level. And we have to hold the dueling possibilities that somebody can be a great man and do great things and also do terrible things.
And so it's important that John Conyers steps down. This is not just about John Conyers. It's about how we treat all of these cases. And I think it's a significant one for us to be able to say, we're not just going to call for people to resign when we don't like them or when we're - you know, when they're distasteful to us. But we're going to have to do it even in times when it's very difficult for people to do it.
SIMON: Do you believe that your party's leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, was a little late to call on Mr. Conyers to resign?
JAYAPAL: I think I was disappointed with how she responded on that Sunday interview. And I have, you know, a great deal of respect for Nancy Pelosi. I think she has a tough job as leader of the caucus. But I think this is an important moment for us as Democrats to show the moral high ground and to really seize the opportunity that we have before us of the courage of women across the country who are coming out to speak out at a...
JAYAPAL: ...Time when it's incredibly important because - hello?
SIMON: Yes, we're here. I must have a call coming in. Please, Representative Jayapal, go ahead.
JAYAPAL: OK. When it's incredibly important for us because we have somebody in the presidency who himself has numerous allegations against him for sexual harassment and abuse. And we've got somebody running for the Senate - Republican Roy Moore, running for the Senate in Alabama - who's accused of pedophilia. If we want to have the high ground on these issues, we must be willing to speak out and show leadership and continue to encourage women across the country to speak out and to know that they're going to be listened to.
SIMON: Representative Jayapal, we've heard reports in recent days and weeks that many women, staffers and members of Congress have not always felt respected or even safe in the offices of Congress. What needs to change to change that?
JAYAPAL: Well, it's true. And I think for many of us as women, we're sort of saying, you know, this is what it's been. We've been trying to say this for a long time not just in Congress but in industries in the service industry and everywhere. In Congress in particular, I think we need to do three things. We need to make sure we remove barriers to reporting, make the process easy for women to come forward, which it is not right now.
SIMON: We've just got 20 seconds left. Yes, go ahead.
JAYAPAL: Number two, we've got to make sure we have a transparent process to process those claims. And, finally, there's got to be accountability.
SIMON: You're wonderful to meet our clock. Thanks very much.
JAYAPAL: (Laughter) Thanks, Scott.
SIMON: Representative Pramila Jayapal, who represents Seattle, thanks so much for being with us.
JAYAPAL: Great to be with you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.