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Rep. Keith Ellison Says Franken & Conyers Should “Examine Their Conscience” over Sexual Harassment

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On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressmember John Conyers and Democratic Senator Al Franken are both facing calls to resign, after multiple women accused both men of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual contact. Army veteran Stephanie Kemplin says Franken cupped her breast at a USO event in 2003 as the pair posed for a photo, refusing to let go. Radio broadcaster Leeann Tweeden posted a photo showing Franken appearing to place his hands on her breasts over her Kevlar vest while she was sleeping on a plane in 2006 as they were both coming back from a USO tour. Meanwhile, Rep. Conyers is facing multiple accusations he sexually harassed or groped women—charges he denies. Among his accusers is Marion Brown, who said Conyers invited her to a Chicago hotel room in 2005, where he appeared in his underwear and demanded she touch him sexually. She says she was fired when she refused. For more, we speak with Minnesota Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Congressman Ellison, the whole issue of sexual harassment in Congress. You have Congressmember Speier who has introduced—right?—a bill to change the law, #MeTooCongress. You have Congressman Conyers, you have Senator Franken. Do you think Franken and Conyers should resign?

REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, you know, Amy, you know, here’s the thing. I would ask every member of Congress, including those, to look inside their conscience and ask themselves just a few questions. Can you be effective? If you stood up your whole life to stand up for the rights of people—and both of them have—is it not a moment now where you apply some standards to yourself that you have asked others to live by? These are the questions. Can you be effective? Can you be there for your constituents at this point? These are questions that we all have to answer.

I’ll tell you this. When this—I am hoping for a society where every person, women, can go to work and just do their job without any fear of being harassed, mistreated, treated like second-class-citizenship individuals. And the social trends that are driving us, I think, are leading our society to a better place. So, you know, I’ll trust that they will do the right thing for their constituents, for our country. But I am looking forward to a safer, more respectful work environment for everyone—

AMY GOODMAN: But specifically—

REP. KEITH ELLISON: —as we move forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Specifically, should John Conyers resign?

REP. KEITH ELLISON: I heard your question. I heard your question. I heard your question.

AMY GOODMAN: So you’re not willing to say that?

REP. KEITH ELLISON: I’m going to say that I’m going to ask them both to examine their conscience and do the right thing for all of us—

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course—

REP. KEITH ELLISON: —and for their legacies.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Senator Franken is your fellow congressional leader from Minnesota. You are answering—your response is the same for Senator Franken?


AMY GOODMAN: And what about the #MeToo bill, the #MeTooCongress bill, that would change the laws around reporting? And among the issues, do you feel that the names of the congressmembers who made settlements, paid out what? The reports are something like $17 million of taxpayer money. Should their names be made public, both retroactively and going forward?

REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, let me tell you, on this issue of the $17 million, I mean, the facts do matter. As a journalist, I know you agree with that. And it’s—all that $17 million was not about sexual harassment claims. So I think it is important—

AMY GOODMAN: Right, also racial harassment and other issues.

REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, right. And so, the bottom line is, you know, it is important to understand what those settlement payouts were actually about. And so—and not all of them were about sexual harassment in particular.

Now, regarding the bill, I think that it is an important piece of legislation. I believe in reading bills and going through to make sure that we understand the implications of it. Getting testimony, things like that, I think, are really critically important. I’ll tell you that we need greater level of transparency and sunshine. At the same time, you know, will we discourage victims from coming forward if they’re not ready to be totally public about what happened to them? Is there a place for a settlement process? I think that there—that that allows a victim to—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, their names don’t have to be made public. Their names don’t have to be made public—

REP. KEITH ELLISON: Right, right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —the accusers. But when there is a settlement, do the American people have a right to know who is settling and what for?

REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, you know, they might. I think this is a very—see, here’s the thing. The answer to your question is this. This is a piece of legislation that we have got to examine, get testimony on, hear how it will implicate everybody. In Congress, we have hearings on stuff like this. At this point, I would want to hear from victims, what they think about the law. I’d want to hear some testimony on that. I think if this law helps to bring light to these horrible tragedies, that’s a good thing. I think if it would dissuade the resolution of a case, that might be an impact that we haven’t—that we’re not fully aware of yet, that we might want to really think about before we move in that direction.

The point is this. The specific piece of legislation, in my mind, is not as important as the fact that Jackie Speier is driving a critical issue that we all have to examine, and it’s pushing us to a fairer, safer, more respectful workplace. That is the real issue. In terms of the particulars of the bill, we will continue to examine them, but I am hopeful that this—that the work that Jackie Speier is doing, and many others, will bring us to a safer, more respectful workplace. And I think that’s the most important thing about this.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Ellison, we’d like you to stay with us, as we are going to turn now to the issue of Honduras and the crisis that is developing there. We’re going to break and then come back to Honduras, where thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest what many are calling an electoral coup d’état. Stay with us.

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