Rep. Kathleen Rice walked out of a House Democrats caucus meeting Wednesday at the Capitol, protesting what she said was her colleagues’ failure to take allegations of sexual harassment seriously enough.
“I don’t have time for meetings that aren’t real,” Rice (D-Garden City) told reporters upon exiting.
She then issued a letter calling for House Speaker Paul Ryan to lift the gag order on a congressional employee who accused Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) of unwanted sexual advances.
“The accuser who attempted to seek help through a deeply flawed system should not continue to be silenced by the institution that failed to protect her in the first place,” she wrote.
Rice is the first of only two Democrats to publicly urge Conyers’ resignation.
Conyers, 88, and the House’s longest-serving sitting member, faces allegations of sexual misconduct by at least four women.
One who said she was fired after rebuffing his sexual advances settled a wrongful dismissal complaint that included a nondisclosure agreement in 2015, BuzzFeed reported.
Conyers has acknowledged the settlement, but denied any wrongdoing.
He stepped down from his ranking position on the House Judiciary Committee and did not attend a regular Congressional Black Caucus meeting Wednesday at the Capitol.
The House Ethics Committee is investigating his behavior.
Ryan (R-Wis.) did not directly respond to Rice’s letter, but denounced workplace sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment has no place in any workplace, let alone in the United States Congress,” Ryan told reporters. “The fact that some people end up walking these halls are subjected to a threatening or hostile work environment when they came here to serve their country . . . that’s wrong. That’s a disgrace.”
Ryan would not say if he believes Conyers should resign.
The House on Wednesday approved a bipartisan measure to mandate anti-harassment training for lawmakers and aides.
Rice had left the weekly House Democrats meeting after less than 30 minutes.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at that point declined to directly address allegations against Conyers.
“I couldn’t sit in that meeting any longer if they’re not going to talk about the elephant in the room,” Rice said in a phone interview. “How do you not talk about it? It’s all anyone wants to talk about.”
During the meeting, Pelosi acknowledged female lawmakers who are working on sexual harassment legislation.