Getting rid of John Conyers won't be easy

John Conyers accusations prompt investigation
John Conyers accusations prompt investigation

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John Conyers accusations prompt investigation 02:03

(CNN)Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat, continues to battle allegations of sexual harassment, accusations first made public in reporting by BuzzFeed on Monday. On Tuesday night, the Detroit Free Press editorial board called on Conyers to resign; "He should resign his position and allow the investigation into his behavior to unfold without the threat that it would render him, and the people he now represents, effectively voiceless," the editorial board wrote.

So, will Conyers take that advice? Or will he try to weather the storm? I reached out to the Detroit Free Press' Todd Spangler for answers to those questions. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.
Cillizza: How are the Conyers's sexual harassment charges playing among his fellow Michigan members -- and the broader populace of the state?
Spangler: So far, there hasn't been much of any reaction from Republican members of the Michigan delegation -- and they take up 9 of the 14 seats. I'm guessing that part of the reason for that is a) It's a holiday week and they're busy with their families, etc., and b) Roy Moore. You go after Conyers too hard at this point or try to link Democrats with him and you might find that finger pointing back at yourself.
    Among Democrats, the reaction has been stronger, with just about a unanimous call for an ethics investigation. I haven't come across anyone who doesn't support that -- including the Michigan Democratic Party, which went the extra step to note not only the sexual harassment accusations but the prospect that office funds might have been misused in the settlement. That suggests the party might take a very tough line on this going forward and any lingering support for Conyers could evaporate quickly. No one wants to be seen as defending him at this point, it seems.
    What's also clear is that just below the surface -- and in some cases out in the open -- there is a feeling among some Democratic pundits, consultants, etc., that Conyers should go and go quickly, that his hanging around while this gets sorted out -- and with the possibility of more accusers coming forward -- doesn't do the party any good heading into midterms. But I don't know of any members of Congress saying that out loud.
    Numerically speaking by the way, there's no downside to his leaving. Conyers' seat is one of the most Democratic districts in the nation and it's not going to flip.
    Cillizza: Conyers is widely known as the longest serving member of the House. Beyond that, how is he regarded in DC and Michigan?
    Spangler: He's a real enigma in terms of reputation. African Americans in Detroit and I believe across the nation see him as a long-time civil rights champion, someone who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and employed Rosa Parks when she moved to Detroit -- and [someone who] has fought for more than 50 years in Congress to improve civil rights. I mean, he's renowned. The Congressional Black Caucus counts him as a founder and has been a huge supporter, helping to keep him atop the Judiciary Committee. But there are also many people who believe that he should have retired long ago, that he's not as sharp as he once was, and that the ethical questions that have been raised in this and other instances have damaged him.
    There is also his wife, Monica, a former city councilwoman in Detroit who did prison time for accepting bribes. Her behavior -- which has been boorish at times -- has reflected very badly on Conyers, who kept his distance from her legal troubles but also has refused to criticize her in public. In fact, he really won't talk about her in any way, shape or form. But there is no question that she has hurt his reputation.
    One other thing about the regard people hold him in: There is no dearth of people who would like to see Conyers go and vie for that seat. A few have even tried to knock him off. But the Conyers brand is so strong none have really come close. So as far as his constituents go, he's their guy. That might be a factor in whether he stays or goes.
    Cillizza: Is this news about Conyers truly "new"? Or has there been chatter about it before? If the latter, why is it only coming to light now?
    Spangler: I think in all fairness to Conyers, chatter overall is pretty rampant on the Hill and that it wouldn't be right for reporters to throw that kind of gossip up as news without a strict vetting regarding any member of Congress. You hear all kinds of things after all -- but no, it's not the first time I've heard an allegation of some kind or other about something going on in Conyers' (or someone else's) office. The distinction here is that documents which are usually kept completely under wraps and secret -- the complaint and unsigned settlement by the woman who worked for him, the affidavits from other women workers in the office -- was entirely new and that BuzzFeed, to their credit, got them and, more importantly, vetted them with the people involved.
    Again, though, in fairness to Conyers: This settlement that was published by BuzzFeed expressly denied the claims made against him and the woman who accused him signed it. She may have done so because she felt she had no other choice, that this was as much justice as she was going to get from this closed-door system of dealing with harassment complaints, but at no point has Conyers acknowledged he did anything wrong.
    Cillizza: Conyers denies that he harassed anyone. So far Democratic leadership isn't calling on him to resign. How long does that last?
    Spangler: I have every reason to believe that behind the scenes he is probably being pushed in that direction, though I don't know by whom or how strongly. Certainly, I don't think he's going to be able to count on much party help going forward or, you know, Barack Obama to endorse him again in his next election.
    But I also have every reason to believe that 88-year-old John Conyers is going to be a very hard rock to move: He's had his share of challenges, politically, ethically, etc., over the years and he's still sitting there. This guy was part of the committee vote to impeach Nixon! He knew King personally. I think he has a great ability to put his head down and not let criticism get to him, to tune it out. I don't think he's going to just look at it and say, "That's it, I'm done. This is too hard."
    I think the real measure of this will be the level of support -- or lack of it -- that he gets from other African American leaders, especially those in the Congressional Black Caucus. If that group were to abandon him, call for his resignation, then he might feel like it's the end. Likewise, if somehow Democrats were to move to strip him of his spot as ranking member of Judiciary -- which has already been talked about in recent years (though, again, there he sits). The counterweight to that, however, is that he may want to beat John Dingell's longevity record in Congress -- and for that he'd have to serve six more years.
    Cillizza: Finish this sentence: "By Christmas, John Conyers will be ______________." Now, explain.
    Spangler: Predictions aren't my strong suit. But I think he'll still be in office, planning his annual trip to the Super Bowl, unless there are widespread calls among Democratic officials and respected black leaders -- John Lewis, Barack Obama -- say that it's time for him to go. And even then he might say, to hell with it, let them force me out. My gut tells me he'll probably lawyer up -- this guy has been on the Judiciary Committee a loooong time after all, he knows a lot of lawyers -- and try to ride this out. But I could be wrong.