Minority House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has astonishingly poor political instincts.
So poor, in fact, that she has managed to bungle every aspect of her response to the scandal surrounding Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
The Michigan representative stands accused of multiple acts of sexual misconduct, including attempts to coerce subordinates into bed, inappropriate touching and caressing and other various sexual improprieties. Conyers’ office has also been caught using public funds and highly unusual accounting tricks to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit brought against the congressman by a former staffer alleging sexual misconduct.
For Pelosi, the political response here should be easy. To be clear, the first and most important consideration should be the moral and ethical one. A credible pattern of misconduct has been established against Conyers. That's enough reason for the Democratic leader in the House to ask for his resignation. As for the second consideration, politicking, which is all anyone in the Capitol really cares about anyway, there is an obvious path forward for Pelosi.
First, Conyers’ seat is in safe Democratic territory. It’s a D+32 district, for goodness sake. It’s not falling to Republicans anytime soon.
Secondly, the nation is in the midst of a major movement, dubbed “Me Too,” wherein multiple sexual predators, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and journalists Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer, have been rooted out, exposing decades of sexual abuse spanning multiple industries.
Third, as “Me Too” grows in size, and as the full scope of these sex abuse stories has not yet been fully realized, Republicans are struggling to deal with the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct that have been brought against President Trump and more recently against Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Weighing these three factors carefully, here's how the top Democrat in Congress’ lower chamber should’ve responded: First, remove Conyers. Don’t worry about his seat. That district isn’t going anywhere. Next, use Conyers’ exit to claim the moral high ground in the national debate on sexual abuse. At the same time, hammer the GOP ruthlessly for its own misconduct problem. Lastly, after touting all house-cleaning efforts, march into 2018 and 2020 chanting “Me too!” and “Believe women!”
True, getting Conyers to resign is a tricky riddle, but it can be solved with the right approach. After all, it shouldn't be that difficult to convince a member of Congress as ethically dubious as Conyers to vacate his office. Once he steps aside, the other parts fall into place.
But none of that has happened, because Pelosi has done basically everything wrong.
First, she dodged questions about the Conyers scandal. The she actually defended the congressman, claiming this weekend on "Meet the Press" that Conyners is an “icon.”
"We are strengthened by due process," she said. "Just because someone is accused — and was it one accusation? Is it two? I think there has to be — John Conyers is an icon in our country.”
Great. With one bungled interview, she just surrendered the high ground Democrats have been trying to grab by publicly disowning their more problematic so-called icons, including former President Bill Clinton.
As a quick aside, it’s a bit pointless to demand Pelosi do something about Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who is also facing numerous and credible accusations of sexual misconduct. The California congresswoman can denounce Franken, which she hasn’t, but he’s more of a problem for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Let the two chambers sort out their respective problems separately.
Now, back to Pelosi's bungling of this ordeal: On Thursday, sources close to Conyers said the stress of the scandal landed him in the hospital. Amazingly enough, as news of the congressman's reportedly deteriorating health ricocheted around newsrooms, Pelosi decided that it would be a good time to call on him to resign.
"The allegations against Congressman Conyers, as we have learned more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing, and very credible," Pelosi said at a conference.
So, Pelosi defended Conyers long enough so as to destroy any sort of moral high ground Democrats could have salvaged from this scandal, and then she demanded his resignation after he was reportedly hospitalized.
Pelosi has done her side no favors here, and she broke the rule that states you never hand your opponent ammunition. Good for her for calling on Conyers to resign, but everyone can see she came to the decision only after all other options failed and the story didn’t go away.
Her mishandling of this ordeal will undoubtedly be thrown back in her party’s face should it try to ding the GOP on sexual misconduct in the coming elections. One can argue the Republican Party has the bigger sexual misconduct problem, but Pelosi’s responses here have greatly diminished her party’s ability to underscore that. Democratic leadership can claim it took responsibility with Conyers, but the GOP can just as easily respond by saying it took them too long and that they only did it because of sustained pressure. Profiles in courage and all that.
The decent thing would’ve been to remove Conyers immediately after a pattern of misconduct was established. Pelosi failed on that front. The political thing would’ve been to remove him immediately while positioning the Democratic Party as champions of abuse victims. She failed on that as well.
You’re bad at your job, congresswoman.