Ethics Committee Investigating Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Rep. John Conyers
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Congress is back from its holiday break and still dealing with its own sexual harassment scandals. Minnesota's Democratic senator, Al Franken, is back on the Hill for the first time since allegations against him first surfaced. Michigan Democratic Congressman John Conyers has stepped down from his position on the House Judiciary Committee pending an ethics investigation. And the White House today said President Trump will not campaign for Alabama Republican Senator Roy Moore. But the president has endorsed Moore sort of in tweets calling for the defeat of his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.
With us now to talk about all this is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hi, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: All right, let's start with Senator Franken. He talked to reporters at the Capitol today. Here's some of what he said.
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AL FRANKEN: I am embarrassed. I feel ashamed. What I'm going to do is I'm going to start my job. I'm going to go back to work. I'm going to work as hard as I can for the people of Minnesota. And I'm going to start that right now. Thank you all. Thank you.
MCEVERS: Going back to work, meaning Franken will not resign. So where does he go from here?
DAVIS: The next step for Al Franken is an expected Senate ethics investigation into these allegations. He reiterated today that he will cooperate with any investigation, although I would note that ethics inquiries tend to take a very long time. So there's no fast or quick resolution to this. And Al Franken isn't up for re-election again until 2020.
There's also an open question here if more women come forward and if that could affect the calculation here. He was asked today, did he expect any more accusers, and he couldn't say for sure if there would be any.
MCEVERS: Congressman John Conyers announced he will give up his job as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Is that enough to satisfy Democrats who are worried about how this could impact the party?
DAVIS: Probably not, but I think you hear Democrats talk very cautiously when they talk about John Conyers because he is the Dean of the House, because of his past record on advancing civil rights.
I think there's quiet talk among Democrats that maybe John Conyers could just retire or resign from Congress. He's 88 years old. If he were to leave, this matter in many ways would largely go away because the House Ethics Committee doesn't have any jurisdiction over former members of Congress, and he is facing an ethics investigation.
And Democrats are a bit more sensitive about the Conyers matter because in his case, it also involves a paid settlement to a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. He denied those allegations, but it did involve a settlement of about just under $30,000. And that is paid for by taxpayers.
MCEVERS: How does that work? I mean, I think people are probably surprised to hear those payments come out of taxpayers' pockets.
DAVIS: And it's not a very politically smart move. I think that's why you see a sensitivity among lawmakers to this. Essentially it's a process outlined in a 1995 law, and it's a process that - it's a three-step process to file complaints that involves mandatory wait times, non-disclosure agreements. And when settlements are paid out, they are paid out of the treasury. There is legislation moving through Congress that would change that process and would make any lawmaker involved in a settlement pay out of their own pocket.
MCEVERS: And as we mentioned, President Trump has said the voters should get to decide about the race in Alabama of course involving Senate candidate Roy Moore. How much impact is that race having on how, you know, both parties deal with sexual harassment or assault allegations?
DAVIS: It could have an outsized effect. You know, if Roy Moore wins, it could embolden other candidates or lawmakers facing allegations to stay and fight, say the voters get to decide. If he loses, if this is a major upset, it could also change the calculation that parties have about candidates and lawmakers to say, if you're facing these allegations, you just got to go.
MCEVERS: NPR's Susan Davis, thank you.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.