By KEVIN FREKING/Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – The resignation of Democratic Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House, brings renewed focus to allegations of sexual harassment in Congress and fresh questions of what’s next as lawmakers confront a national reckoning with high-profile cases that have rocked Hollywood, the media and now Washington.
The 27-term Michigan lawmaker stepped down Tuesday, becoming the first Capitol Hill politician to lose his job in the torrent of sexual misconduct allegations. Still in Congress and caught up in the swirl of accusations are Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., and Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas – all of whom say they won’t quit. And next week, Alabama voters could send GOP candidate Roy Moore to the Senate despite multiple complaints, including one that he molested a 14-year-old girl decades ago when he was in his 30s.
A few questions in the aftermath of Conyers’ announcement:
Q: What happens to the Ethics Committee investigation of Conyers?
A: It’s likely over. The committee’s jurisdiction extends to current members of Congress and their employees. When a lawmaker resigns, the committee loses jurisdiction over that member. The resignation last year of Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Penn., after his conviction in a Philadelphia racketeering case serves as an example. One day after the resignation, the committee issued a statement stating, “The Committee considers this matter closed.”
Q: Could Conyers face potential lawsuits from the women alleging sexual harassment?
A: Attorney Lisa Bloom says it’s unlikely because Congress has put in place a strict timeline for bringing complaints forward. Complaints must be made within 180 days of the alleged violation of the law. Also, to file a complaint with the Office of Compliance, accusers must first enter into mediation, with a nondisclosure agreement attached, followed by a mandatory 30-day “cooling off” period. After completion, a victim may either file a formal complaint or a federal lawsuit. The process is so arduous that many victims either settle or decide against going through the reporting at all. Bloom says, “Most of the people I’m talking to, their claims are beyond the 180-day time window.”
Q: Will the Conyers case bring changes to the way sexual harassment cases involving members of Congress are settled?
A: Bloom says that’s the goal. “The next step for us is reforming the system,” Bloom said. Bloom said women should have more time to bring their case and they should not be forced into confidentiality agreements and settlements funded by the public. “There should be more transparency and more accountability,” Bloom said.
Lawmakers have introduced various bills to ensure greater transparency. The House and Senate have passed legislation to require mandatory training for lawmakers and staff.
Q: With Conyers out, who is the most senior member in the House now?
A: Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska will become the most senior member in the House. Young, 84, is serving his 23rd term in the House. Young can be blunt and brusque. Two months ago, he apologized to Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., for addressing her during a debate as “young lady” and saying she “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.” Young was offering an amendment about wildlife management on national preserves in his state when Jayapal spoke in opposition. Young later apologized, saying he has a tendency to “get very defensive about my state.”
Q: Will Conyers still get his congressional pension?
A: Yes. Conyers has not been charged with any crime. Not only that, crimes that would lead to a forfeiture of a retirement annuity are limited to certain circumstances, namely treason or espionage, according to the Congressional Research Service. Based on his decades of service, Conyers would be eligible for an annual pension of nearly $130,000, according to the National Taxpayers Union, an advocacy group that keeps track of the public benefit.
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