The top Democrat in the House on Thursday called on Michigan Rep. John Conyers to resign in the face of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Conyers' lawyer swiftly rejected the request, saying Nancy Pelosi "sure as hell won't be the one to tell the congressman to leave."
House Minority Leader Pelosi called the accusations against Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House, "very credible" and "serious," and said he should step down after decades on Capitol Hill. Conyers was elected in 1964.
Pelosi said she prayed for the 88-year-old Democratic lawmaker, who was hospitalized in Detroit, and his family. "However," she said, "Congressman Conyers should resign."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., addressing reporters minutes later, echoed Pelosi and said Conyers "should resign immediately."
And Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American Democrat in Congress, agreed that it's time for Conyers to step down, saying, "This is not going to get any better. In fact, I could see it getting even worse."
In Michigan, Conyers' attorney, Arnold Reed, strongly dismissed the growing clamor for Conyers to step aside, coming not only from Pelosi but other Democrats. Conyers, who has insisted on his innocence, gave up his seat as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee this past Sunday while holding onto his congressional seat.
The dramatic call from Pelosi came just hours after a former aide publicly accused Conyers of sexual harassment, telling NBC's "Today" show that she was fired for rejecting his advances.
Marion Brown, 61, said the congressman propositioned her for sex multiple times over more than a decade. Brown initially told her story to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity, saying she'd settled a complaint in 2015 with Conyers over the allegations, according to her attorney.
"It was sexual harassment ... violating my body," Brown said Thursday. "Propositioning me. Inviting me to hotels with the guise of discussing business and then propositioning me ... for sex."
Pelosi on Sunday had called Conyers an icon and argued for the due process of an Ethics Committee investigation. On Thursday, she said, "zero tolerance means consequences — for everyone. No matter how great the legacy, it's not license to harass or discriminate. In fact, it makes it even more disappointing."
A wave of allegations against titans of entertainment, media and sports has resulted in swift punishment. In Congress, however, two lawmakers facing accusations — Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Conyers — have remained in their jobs.
Conyers, meanwhile, was in a Detroit hospital, political consultant and family friend Sam Riddle told Detroit media.
"The Congressman's health is not what it should be," Riddle said, "and a lot of that is directly attributable to this media assault."
Riddle said that 88-year-old is resting comfortably, and a spokesperson for Conyers confirmed what Riddle told reporters. Riddle also addressed the wave of allegations against Conyers.
"The reality is these serial accusers have done this before. We're used to it," Riddle said. "We don't condone sexual harassment on any level, but we hope that you will pray for the Congressman's good health."
Brown broke a confidentiality agreement to tell her story to "Today," saying she stayed on the job because she needed to support her family and found the work rewarding.
A request for comment on Brown's statements was not immediately returned by Conyers' lawyers
BuzzFeed News reported last week that Conyers had settled a complaint two years ago for $27,000 with a female staffer who alleged she was fired because she rejected his sexual advances. BuzzFeed didn't disclose her name in its initial report and said the settlement was confidential.
Brown's lawyer, Lisa Bloom, confirmed to the AP after the NBC interview aired that Brown was that former employee. She said Brown worked for Conyers in a variety of capacities from 2003 until 2014, mostly in the Detroit district office.
Brown said she was taking a risk by violating the confidentiality agreement. She said she spoke out to say she's "not a liar" and to request an apology from Conyers. She said she reported some allegations to Conyers' chief of staff in Detroit, but nothing happened.
A former scheduler filed a complaint earlier this year, but later dropped it. The AP hasn't released her name. And a third ex-staffer, Deanna Maher, said Tuesday that in 1997, Conyers undressed to his underwear in front of her and twice touched her leg inappropriately.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating Conyers, and Reed said he will cooperate with any investigation.