WASHINGTON >> Bowing to pressure from fellow Republicans, Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold said today he would not seek re-election to a fifth term, apologizing for his angry outbursts but denying sexual harassment allegations.
In a five-minute video on his campaign’s Facebook page, Farenthold denied a former aide’s 3-year-old accusations that he’d subjected her to sexually suggestive comments and behavior and then fired her after she complained. But he apologized for an office atmosphere he said included “destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters he’d spoken twice to Farenthold on Wednesday and suggested there were additional accusations that had yet to surface.
“Unacceptable behavior has been alleged in those stories, and I think he’s made the right decision that he’s going to be leaving Congress and that reflects some of the conversations we’ve had,” Ryan said.
Farenthold joins the list of lawmakers leaving Congress amid allegations of sexual misconduct that have also toppled powerful men in Hollywood, the media and sports. While Farenthold couldn’t survive the onslaught, a first-term Nevada Democrat continued to resist calls to step aside.
Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., on Thursday faced a fresh accusation as a lobbyist claimed he touched her thighs and buttocks on several occasions and made unwanted sexual advances while he was a state senator. The Nevada Independent published the report but withheld her name.
The accusations came less than two weeks after a former staffer said Kihuen harassed her during his 2016 congressional campaign.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reiterated her call for Kihuen to resign, but the lawmaker has said he will remain in office and would welcome an ethics investigation to clear his name.
In a statement Thursday, Kihuen said he wouldn’t discuss any details of the relationships he’s had with women while in elected office.
“During my 10 years in the legislature, I dated several different women. Out of respect for their privacy, I won’t discuss my communications or any other details of those relationships,” he said.
Sexual harassment allegations against Farenthold first surfaced in 2014, when he was sued by his former communications director, Lauren Greene. At the time, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics investigated Greene’s claim and recommended that the House Ethics Committee dismiss the case. But the allegations have been revived, particularly since it became public that Farenthold paid a $84,000 settlement using money from a taxpayer-funded account.
Farenthold is the fourth lawmaker in two weeks to announce his departure from Capitol Hill following misconduct allegations.
Last week, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., retired weeks after former aides shared stories of habitual sexual harassment. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., announced he would step down after he was accused of improper behavior by at least eight women and his support from fellow Democrats collapsed.
On Friday, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., abruptly resigned over revelations that he’d asked two staff members to act as surrogates, offering one of them $5 million. Franks stepped down after Ryan urged him to quit.
In recent weeks, lawmakers have also introduced bills to make the process of reporting sexual harassment on Capitol Hill more transparent. On Thursday, Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington said in a letter to the all-male leadership of the Senate and its powerful Appropriations Committee that aides who complain about sexual harassment shouldn’t have to endure “cooling off” periods and mediation. The women, who are powerful forces on the Appropriations panel, say steps to improve training on sexual harassment and changes in the manner in which complaints are handled should be added to upcoming must-pass spending legislation.
Collins and Murray added that staffers who experience harassment should also have access to “independent confidential resources” to assist them through the complaint process.