Pelosi Scrambles to Recover Standing After Sex Harass Fumble

The Democratic leader of the House finally urged Rep. John Conyers to step down four days after calling him an 'icon'

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) finally exhibited the leadership Thursday that she urged Congress to embrace Wednesday when she called on Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to resign from office days after he began fielding sexual harassment allegations.

Pelosi took her stand on the same day that Conyers was admitted to a hospital. The congressman’s political consultant, Sam Riddle, told WDIV-TV that his poor condition was due in large part to the “media assault” on Conyers.

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“The congressman’s health is not what it should be, and a lot of that is directly attributable to this media assault,” Riddle said.

When former staffers first began accusing Conyers — the longest-serving current member of Congress and one of Washington’s most prominent African-American lawmakers — of sexual misconduct, many Democratic leaders were loath to demand his resignation. During an interview Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Pelosi declined to call for Conyers to step down and even went so far as to say that she didn’t know if she believed the congressman’s accusers.

“I don’t know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward,” Pelosi told host Chuck Todd when asked if she believed the women. “That’s for the ethics committee to review.”

After fielding frustration and backlash from liberals for her waffling, Pelosi said Monday that she met with Melanie Sloan, one of Conyers’ accusers, and listened to her story.

“I believe what Ms. Sloan has told me,” Pelosi said.

On Wednesday, the House minority leader delivered a speech on the House floor in which she urged members of Congress to embrace their “moral authority” and “show real, effective leadership to foster a climate of respect and dignity in the workplace with absolutely zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination or abuse.”

“Anything less is unacceptable, my colleagues,” Pelosi added. At the time, she still hadn’t called on Conyers to resign.

“Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone — no matter how great a legacy is no license to harass or discriminate.”

But on Thursday, Pelosi finally came forward and added her voice to the chorus calling for Conyers’ resignation.

“Congressman Conyers should resign,” Pelosi told reporters. “The allegations against Congressman Conyers, as we’ve heard more and more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing, and very credible.”

“It’s very sad,” Pelosi added. “Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone — no matter how great a legacy is no license to harass or discriminate.”

But Conyers’ lawyer, Arnold Reed, fired back at Pelosi during a press conference Thursday.

“It is not up to Nancy Pelosi — Nancy Pelosi did not elect Mr. Conyers,” Reed said. “And she sure as hell won’t be the one to tell the congressman to leave.”

Related: Pelosi Punts: Won’t Say if Conyers Should Step Down

Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin said Thursday afternoon in a tweet that “it is beyond clear Members of Congress who are credibly accused of sexual misconduct should resign.”

“EVERY Member of Congress should call on OCC to release the names of Members who have had taxpayer-funded payments made on their behalf from the #ShushFund,” Martin tweeted.

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In a statement to LifeZette, Martin elaborated further, noting that “arguing over who should have called for resignations at what time is a distraction from a much more important matter: The American people have a right to know which members of Congress are using taxpayer dollars to buy the silence of those claiming sexual misconduct.”

Martin referred to the so-called “shush fund” that had been used to settle harassment complaints quietly.

“Congress has a duty to immediately release the names of any member of Congress who utilized the taxpayer-funded ‘shush fund,’ whether through the Office of Compliance or their congressional office budget, to hide claims of sexual misconduct against them,” Martin added.

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PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected].