Politics

Kihuen’s Future in Question After Second Accuser Comes Forward

Pelosi indicates Nevada Democrat wants to go through Ethics Committee process

A second woman has accused Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., of sexual harassment. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s future remains in question amid calls to resign and a second accuser alleging he sexually harassed her while he was in the Nevada state Senate.

The Nevada Independent reported Wednesday night that a lobbyist claimed Kihuen sent her hundreds of text messages, some of them suggestive, and touched her inappropriately. Two weeks ago, Buzzfeed reported allegations that Kihuen harassed a former campaign staffer.

Kihuen’s office has not responded to requests for comment on whether he will seek re-election. Last week he said he would make a statement in “a few days” but has yet to weigh in. Kihuen was in Washington, D.C., Thursday, and was spotted on the House floor.

Kihuen did not deny the allegations in the Independent’s story, saying in a statement, “During my ten 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.”

Watch: Kihuen’s Future Unknown After Harassment Accusation

The woman said she never dated Kihuen.

Kihuen has previously said that he would welcome an investigation.

“I believe in transparency,” Kihuen said in a statement Wednesday. “If Ethics wants to look at it, I welcome an opportunity to clear my name.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who called on Kihuen to resign after the first story published, said Thursday that he wanted the investigation to move forward.

“He wants to go through the Ethics Committee,” the California Democrat said. “That’s his right to do.”

In recent weeks four members of Congress have announced their resignations or retirements in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.

Kihuen has not faced the same kind of pressure that led to the resignation of Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan last week.  Conyers was the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee and faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Pelosi suggested Kihuen’s status as a first-term lawmaker may be why similar pressure has not built up yet for Kihuen to step down.

“He’s not a ranking member, something like that,” Pelsoi said.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday she did not expect the caucus to make another statement following the latest allegation. The caucus did not call on him to resign but issued a statement that “those responsible for sexual harassment or sexual assault must be held accountable.”

“We feel strongly that we’re clear that we expect all members of Congress to adhere to the highest possible standards,” the New Mexico Democrat said.

Lujan Grisham has personally called on Kihuen to resign.

It’s not clear when Kihuen will comment on his future. And it appeared the news of a second accuser was still circulating around Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, was not aware of the Independent’s story when approached off the House floor Thursday, but said she was “not surprised” when informed of the allegations.

Speier declined further comment, noting she would be talking to Kihuen’s former campaign staffer from the Buzzfeed report on Thursday afternoon. The woman had reached out to Speier, she said. Speier, a former congressional staffer, has been leading the effort on Capitol Hill to reform the sexual harassment process.

Watch: Hill Sexual Misconduct Could Muddy 2018 Wave Potential

In the meantime Democrats are waiting for Kihuen to make a decision. Many feel he would not be able to win re-election.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján immediately called on Kihuen to resign two weeks ago. Kihuen has insisted that the DCCC and Pelosi were aware of the allegations last year. Spokespeople for Luján and Pelosi denied that, saying they learned of the allegations through the Buzzfeed report. Kihuen’s accuser told Buzzfeed she informed a mid-level DCCC staffer of the harassment. 

The DCCC removed Kihuen from its list of members in the “Frontline program,” the Hill first reported. The program assists Democrats running in competitive districts. The committee has not ruled out spending on Kihuen if he remains in the race, the Hill reported, since it could still spend on the independent expenditure side, which is separate from coordinated spending with the campaign.

Kihuen won his first term by 4 points in 2016, even as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the district by 5 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the district Likely Democratic.

Republicans already have a candidate in Las Vegas City Council member Stavros Anthony. Former GOP Rep. Cresent Hardy, who represented the district before losing to Kihuen last year, is also considering running. He told the Nevada Independent last week that people are pushing him to reconsider his decision not to run.

On the Democratic side, some potential contenders are already being discussed should Kihuen decide to retire.

Some names that have circulated included Rep. Steve Horsford, who previously represented the seat but lost in 2014 and state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who represents Kihuen’s old state Senate seat. One Nevada source said Thursday that state Sen. Pat Spearman and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee have also been rumored to consider running.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.