In a statement Tuesday morning, Speaker Paul Ryan called the story “extremely troubling” and noted that he has ordered a review of House policies on harassment and discrimination.
In addition to the Conyers report, Representative Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, told The Denver Post that former Representative Bob Filner, a California Democrat, groped her in an elevator. After leaving Congress, Filner became mayor of San Diego and was then forced to resign after multiple sexual-harassment allegations.
After the first Franken allegation, his fate seemed precarious. Some Democrats felt that Franken should resign immediately, lest the party be accused of hypocrisy is criticizing Republicans including Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. But when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry, Democrats joined in that call, and Franken apologized and said he also supported the inquiry. That seemed to have staved off a resignation, at least temporarily.
But the new allegation against Franken, from a woman named Lindsay Menz, injects new instability. Menz met Franken, then in his first term in the Senate, at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. She was working at a booth for her father’s business and took a series of pictures with celebrities and politicians, and she says Franken groped her butt while taking a photo. She told several people, including her father and husband, about the incident at the time. In a statement to CNN, which first reported the story, Franken said, “I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don’t remember taking this picture. I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected."
While the nature and scale of the allegations against Franken, Conyers, and Filner run a range of times and degrees, there’s one notable thing that connects all of them: their party affiliation. The Democratic Party has championed equal pay for women, laws like the Violence Against Women Act, and more, and its members have accused the Republican Party of a “war on women.” Franken has called for greater protections for women who are sexually harassed. Conyers and Filner both got their start in politics during the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s; Conyers was at Freedom Day in Selma, and Filner was a Freedom Rider. Just last month, Conyers’s colleague Maxine Waters praised Conyers for his commitment to women’s rights.
Each of these men surely views himself as a genuine progressive and a champion of women, at least in the abstract. But the stories and allegations against them show that progressive values do not prevent men from harassing women; and moreover, championing women through politics, though important, does not excuse inappropriate private behavior.
Of course, the claims against Moore, and a raft of previous claims against Republicans, demonstrate that both parties face serious problems with sexual harassment. And if there’s one thing the last two months have taught, it’s that there are likely to be many, many more revelations about members of Congress in the weeks ahead.