If accused child molestor Roy Moore wins the Alabama Senate seat in two weeks, he may have reason to offer thanks to the most important Democrat in Washington — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” she responded haughtily to the idea that she and her fellow Democrats should cut Rep. John Conyers loose after learning he’d paid off a staffer who accused him of sexual harassment — a story that blew the lid off the existence of a congressional slush fund to settle harassment claims.
She cast doubt on the credibility of the accuser and three women who supported her claim in affidavits because we don’t know their names — even though their names were redacted as part of the settlement.
She praised Conyers for being an “icon” — which, I’ll grant you, is one way of describing an 89-year-old man who has served for a ridiculous 52 years in the House of Representatives, a record that suggests he is less a captain of the ship of state than he is a barnacle permanently attached to its hull.
She said we’re strengthened by “due process” in this country. You cannot judge “just because someone is accused.” This wasn’t a problem for her in many other cases in which sexual misconduct was alleged — just so long as it was being alleged about people she didn’t like.
Pelosi has since backtracked a bit after the firestorm that erupted after her comments. She met one accuser and said she believed her. And she accepted Conyers’ decision to step down as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
But Pelosi knew full well she was going to get hammered for saying what she said. After all, we’re talking about not just an accusation but a situation in which taxpayer money was used to hush up a troubling event in the “icon’s” office suite.
So why did she do it?
Pelosi was sending a message to her Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill that when the going gets tough, she’s going to stand with them. We have no idea where the sex-and-power scandal is heading and how many people in Washington are going to be affected by it — especially if you add to it this mysterious payoff system that has already doled out a reported $17 million in settlement money.
Pelosi wanted her members to know she’d defend them even against the indefensible. She has a real shot at regaining the leadership position in the House after the 2018 election, and she’s electioneering to ensure she’ll secure the 218-plus votes necessary to be chosen speaker if Democrats win the majority.
But there are two major hazards here.
If Joe Sixpack has been sending hard-earned dollars to Washington so that John Conyers can get off (in both senses of the term, I’m sorry to say), he has a right to know about it, know who’s made use of that money and be told why this was considered acceptable. Since it’s almost certainly not, this may go hard on House leaders in both parties.
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There’s a precedent here. In 1991, reporters revealed that congressmen had been making obscene use of a facility called the House Bank to secure no-interest loans in the form of cashed checks that wouldn’t bounce no matter how little money was in the congressman’s account.
For a long time, the House Bank scandal was the subject of eye-rolling scorn inside the Beltway — there had been no public money involved, and who cared, really. But it proved an undeniable boon to Republicans in the 1994 midterm election that gave the GOP control of the House for the first time in four decades.
So Pelosi had better take care here. If the slush fund becomes a potent symbol of the diseases generated in the Washington swamp, Pelosi will be in greater danger from it than Paul Ryan, who only became speaker in 2015. She joined the House leadership in 2002.
Even more striking is the aid and comfort she has given to Moore. Those trying to get Moore elected despite credible charges of sexual misconduct have been tossing out arguments left and right. And they were all echoed by Pelosi in her discussion of Conyers on Sunday.
Moore’s people claim he’s being treated unfairly and denied “due process.” They say his long service and many electoral bids should be considered as exculpatory. And that, in his own way, Moore is an “icon” for his preachment of Christian values.
Most important, Pelosi makes vastly more credible their unstated but even more powerful cynical argument: Everybody does it. Everybody’s morally compromised, from the president on down. If it’s OK with Pelosi that Conyers might have paid off someone with public moneys, it should be OK for Alabamans to elect Moore to the Senate.
Maybe Nancy and Roy can enjoy a nice Christmas dinner together in Washington as the city sinks ever deeper into the swamp.