On Monday evening, Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives, sent out a statement regarding the recent allegations of sexual misconduct against Rep. John Conyers. “This afternoon,” it read, “I spoke with Melanie Sloan who worked for Congressman Conyers on the Judiciary Committee in the mid-1990s. Ms. Sloan told me that she had publicly discussed distressing experiences while on his staff. I find the behavior Ms. Sloan described unacceptable and disappointing. I believe what Ms. Sloan has told me.”
The statement, which went on to bemoan the fact that one of Conyers’s accusers “cannot speak publicly because of the secretive settlement process in place,” was a marked course correction: On Sunday, during an appearance on Meet the Press, Pelosi had defended Conyers as an icon—a fact his accusers are not contesting—and had also, in response to Chuck Todd’s question about whether she believed the women accusing Conyers, replied, “I don’t know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward.”
It was a surprisingly tone-deaf response for a politician who is not only a veteran of Meet the Press, and who thus had to expect that a question like this would be coming, but also for someone who has previously—and validly—celebrated herself and her fellow women in Congress for breaking the “marble ceiling.” Pelosi was, by valorizing her colleague and dismissing the women making accusations against him, aligning herself with a longstanding instinct to mistrust women who come forward to share their experiences and disrupt the status quo. She was aligning herself, more broadly, with those who have defended Senator Al Franken—Franken himself has apologized for sexual impropriety—via suggestions that his first accuser, Leeann Tweeden, had political motivations in sharing that infamous photo. Pelosi was also aligning herself with the defenders of Roy Moore, some of whom have suggested—baselessly—that his accusers were paid by The Washington Post as part of a vast left-wing conspiracy.