The Democratic Party’s worst problem raised its ugly head once again during its mishandling of the Rep. John Conyers saga.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appeared on television a week ago Sunday and called for calm and due process for Conyers, the dean of Congress, while the House completed an ethics probe.
She seemed to question the credibility of some women accusing him of sexual harassment, saying she didn’t know them and that it was up to the House Ethics Committee to judge them. She called Conyers an icon who had earned due process.
Meanwhile, behind closed doors, negotiations with Conyers and his family had been nearing a compromise, according to sources familiar with the process: That he would enter the hospital, step down for health reasons — and hopefully, take the Conyers story off the front pages of the nation’s newspapers.
Conyers announced on the radio Tuesday that he would retire, ending a 53-year career and endorsing his son, John Conyers III, to run for his seat.
Rep. Conyers could protect his legacy, leaving at least two House Dems jockeying to replace him as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (By the way, no one campaigning for a committee seat on the backs of alleged sexual assault victims should get it.)
But sadly, all hell broke loose. Pelosi was skewered for her remarks, so she did an abrupt about-face and called on Conyers to resign. And some Democrats — and Republicans — piled on.
Four members of the Michigan delegation — Democratic Reps. Dan Kildee of Flint, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn, Sandy Levin of Royal Oak and Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland — were among them.
“Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone,” Pelosi said. “No matter how great, the legacy is no license to harass or discriminate.”
No one ever said it was, Nancy. And the problem she ignored in her 180-degree spin was that Conyers has not admitted to wrongdoing. But you know who has?
Democratic Sen. Al Franken. And President Donald Trump.
And while Franken has apologized numerous times — and Trump did once — Pelosi has called on neither to resign.
So zero tolerance didn’t apply.
Pelosi, in an effort to govern by Instagram poll, missed an opportunity to show real leadership. She missed it again when Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, became the highest-ranking Democrat to call for Franken’s resignation, and she remained silent.
When the spotlight turned to Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, who used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to pay off a woman who accused him of sexual assault, Pelosi missed another opportunity to call for zero tolerance. She missed another one when she didn’t join Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia in calling for the confidentiality agreement in the Farenthold case to be set aside so America could learn what happened.
But it is the Democratic Party that has the bigger problem — again — because it begs three questions:
Are the party, Pelosi, and Democratic leaders, treating the cases of Conyers and Franken differently because of race?
Where is Democratic resolve when it comes to Donald Trump and sexual harassment?
Is it time for Pelosi to step aside, making way for bolder, stronger leader rather than reactionary leadership?
If the Democratic Party thinks that people aren’t upset about this, it is not spending enough time talking with black and women voters, an apparent misstep that helped cost the party the presidential election last year.
And if the party thinks that black and female voters won’t remember this period during the 2018 and 2020 elections, they are wrong.
It will play. It will play big.
Don’t believe me? Just watch.
Rochelle Riley is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.