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It's Rep. Conyers' Right To Fight Allegations, Rep. Moore Says


U.S. Representative John Conyers, the longest-serving current member of Congress, was hospitalized earlier today, reportedly as a result of stress. The Michigan Democrat has been facing accusations from former staff members of inappropriate comments and unwanted touching. Conyers is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. And the group's chairman, Cedric Richmond, has said he is not going pressure Conyers to leave. Now, before word of Conyers' illness, we spoke with Representative Gwen Moore. She is a Democrat from Wisconsin and the Congressional Black Caucus whip.

Congresswoman, good morning. Thanks for taking the time for us this morning.

GWEN MOORE: Good morning. Thank you. Good morning, David.

GREENE: So Politico has been reporting this week that some members of your caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, have privately been asking Congressman Conyers to resign. Are you one of them?

MOORE: No. I have not been one of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and I really don't know to whom they're referring when they say that Congressional Black Caucus members have been trying to urge him to resign. I am not aware of any member who's been trying to do that.

GREENE: So what do you think Conyers should do?

MOORE: Well, you know, I do not have any advice for Mr. Conyers. I think that the allegations from the women seem very credible to me. They seem extremely serious, and given my own background and history, I'm inclined to believe the women. It's hard to put myself in his shoes, but I would not want to face the excruciating, grueling process of the Ethics Committee and possible votes to be expelled from Congress. But I agree that it's his right to, quote, unquote, fight the thing "tooth and nail," and that's his right as a member. But I - you know, I don't envy the position he's in.

GREENE: You talked about some of your own past, and I gather you're talking about - I mean, in 2012, you spoke on the House floor actually about your experience as a survivor of sexual assault. I guess with that experience and also with you saying that these allegations in your mind are credible, I just have to ask you, why not call for him to step away and no longer serve?

MOORE: Well, you know, I could call for him to step away, but it is his choice. From what I have learned just this morning - news reports - he has doubled down, triple downed on I'm not going to resign. I can tell you that I think that he is probably thinking this thing through. It would be a very arduous process. And it is his right. He says that he has the right to fight these allegations and he does.

GREENE: I know you say it's his choice, but I want to ask you about, you know, the choice of the caucus and how to respond to things like this because even before the Conyers sexual harassment allegations became public, there were some questions about how the CBC responded to things like this. In October, your colleague Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas was criticized by many for suggesting that women can bear some responsibility for being sexually harassed. And we should say she later walked that back. But given that, given the response to Conyers, do you worry at all about the credibility of a caucus that has this foundation in the civil rights movement.

MOORE: David, interrupt you right now.

GREENE: Please, no, please.

MOORE: Let me interrupt you right now. First of all, this is not a, quote, unquote, "Congressional Black Caucus problem." The problem of sexual harassment is very pervasive. I wouldn't be shocked or stunned if there were a hundred men in this body on both sides of the aisle in both chambers who are accused of this behavior. Sexual predation is pervasive not only in Congress but in our society. We need - this is a social problem that has bubbled up at this time. And so for you to characterize this as some sort of Congressional Black Caucus problem, I take offense to that. And just let me say, the Congressional Black Caucus met yesterday, and we categorically are opposed to sexual assault. We stand firm on that ground.

As a matter of fact, the Congressional Black Caucus has taken leadership in promoting sexual assault training. We have one of our members from Detroit, by the way, Brenda Lawrence, who has taken the lead, along with Jackie Speier, in reforming the means, methods, modes for women to be able to come forth with their complaints that are not as arduous and grueling as the current process. And so, David, I would have to say, no, this is not a Congressional Black Caucus problem.

GREENE: Well, Congressman, I want to say forgive me if I came across in any way suggesting that.

MOORE: Yeah, you did come across that way.

GREENE: That was not what I - that was not what I intended in any way. I mean, this is clearly a...

MOORE: Good.

GREENE: ...Problem that is much more pervasive.

MOORE: Good, glad to hear that.

GREENE: So I do want to make that clear. I guess I was just asking because the Black Caucus has such a history in fighting civil rights and a reputation...

MOORE: We're the conscience of the Congress.

GREENE: A reputation of speaking truth to power. I wonder if it has a special responsibility to speak out for women in a moment like this.

MOORE: Well, let me tell you, you know, as a woman who was first raped at age 4, groped at age 65, fired for not sleeping with her boss, you know, impregnated by way of sexual assault, I can guarantee you that this member of the Congressional Black Caucus is in no way is defending sexual predation and molestation. And other members of the Congressional Black Caucus stand firmly with me on that thing. And I look forward to continued conversations, new rules, regulations, rules of the road, with regard to victims being able to come forward. I mean, I had no idea how arduous the process was, how, you know, re-victimized - the re-victimization of women has occurred in this body when they try to come forward and they're forced to go through some arbitration and 90-day waiting periods and private settlements. And so I look forward to participating in reforming the process here.

GREENE: Congresswoman Gwen Moore of the state of Wisconsin - she is the whip of the Congressional Black Caucus. Congresswoman, thank you so much for your time this morning. We really appreciate it.

MOORE: And thank you, David. Be well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.