On Saturday, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) announced he won’t seek reelection in 2018 in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against him. His colleague Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) announced the same decision this week, following allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. Neither lawmaker has decided to resign.
Kihuen, a Democratic lawmaker and the first Latino elected to the US House of Representatives from Nevada, has been accused by a former campaign staffer and a Nevada lobbyist of sexual harassment — both while he was a candidate and while he’s been a state legislator. In a statement on Saturday, Kihuen denied the allegations against him, but said they would be a “distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a reelection campaign.”
BuzzFeed News reported on December 1 that the Nevada Democrat made repeated unwanted sexual advances toward a 25-year-old woman named Samantha during his 2016 campaign for the House of Representatives. The woman became so uncomfortable with the situation that she quit her job.
The Nevada Independent, a Nevada-focused news outlet founded by veteran journalist Jon Ralston, published a report this week outlining allegations from a 24-year-old woman whose firm did business with Kihuen’s campaign. She says Kihuen made unwanted overtures to her and asked overly personal questions, including why she didn’t have a boyfriend and whether or not she lived alone. According to the complaint, Kihuen offered to help her advance in her career. This week, the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into some of the allegations against Kihuen.
“As I’ve said previously, I intend to fully cooperate, and I welcome an opportunity to clear my name," Kihuen said in a statement following the Ethics Committee's announcement.
Farenthold, on the other hand, is accused of much more than “unprofessional” conduct. He was first elected to the House in 2010, and blamed his lack of experience serving in public office as contributing to an environment that was “too permissive and decidedly unprofessional.” In a video posted to Facebook on Thursday, Farenthold said he wouldn’t seek reelection, acknowledging that his office “accommodated destructive gossip, off-hand comments, off-color jokes and behavior, in general, that was less than professional.”
At the beginning of the month, Politico reported that Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit with a former aide in 2014, using money from a little-known congressional account used to cover workplace settlements involving lawmakers.
Lauren Greene, Farenthold’s former communications director, sued the Texas Republican that same year, alleging gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and a hostile work environment. She said Farenthold had told another aide that he had fantasized about Greene, and that both he and his top aide, Bob Haueter, had sexually harassed her. Greene said in a court complaint that when she complained directly to Farenthold in June 2014, she was marginalized and undermined at work, and several weeks later was fired. She filed a lawsuit but dropped the case after a settlement was reached.
The New York Times this week ran a story of the “tawdry tales” out of Farenthold’s office, painting a picture of the Congress member as a volatile, lewd figure whose staffers had to be on “redhead patrol” when he was drinking.
Not seeking reelection is not resigning
While Kihuen and Farenthold aren’t running for reelection, they’re not stepping down, either. Both seem to plan to serve out their terms, meaning they’ve still got another year in office. Others in similar positions have resigned, and these men presumably could too — meaning that some safe seats could be up in the air.
In early December, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) announced his retirement from Congress in the face of mounting claims of sexual misconduct and harassment from former female staffers. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has also said he will resign in light of multiple allegations of misconduct against him. Conyers has already retired; it is not clear when Franken will officially step down.
The question of whether to resign has sparked a debate among political observers: Some worry that Democrats, in forcing out Conyers and Franken, are setting a precedent they might later regret.
Kihuen said on Saturday he is committed to “fully cooperating” with the House Ethics Committee and looks forward to “clearing my name,” but the future of the investigation is not clear. It’s worth noting that despite the allegations, nobody has spoken to Kihuen’s accuser. With rumors swirling of a congressional sexual harassment investigation that potentially involves dozens of members, it’s safe to say this isn’t over — not by a long shot.
Correction: Story initially identified Kihuen as the first Latino elected to the US House of Representatives. He was the first Latino elected to the House from Nevada.