House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer does not believe that Tony Cárdenas needs to step down from his leadership role over allegations that he sexually abused a 16-year-old girl in 2007 when he was serving on the Los Angeles City Council.
Cárdenas, who has denied the allegations raised against him in a lawsuit filed last month, serves in an elected leadership position House Democrats created in 2016 for a member serving for five terms or less to have a seat at the leadership table. The California Democrat is the highest-ranking lawmaker to be accused of sexual misconduct to date.
In conversations with colleagues about the lawsuit, Cárdenas has made it clear that he has not committed the alleged offenses and that he will cooperate with any investigations, Hoyer said.
“My position is we have a process in America where you’re innocent until proven guilty,” the Maryland Democrat said. “Now if he were in a leadership position ... where he is in a place of speaking for the party, then I think that would be a different situation. He is not in such a role.”
Cárdenas is also a member of Hoyer’s whip team, a role Hoyer is also fine with him keeping for now.
Hoyer, however, emphasized that “the allegations are very serious” and should be investigated by the appropriate authorities.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has called on the Ethics Committee to investigation Cárdenas. However, the committee may not have authority to do so.
The Ethics Committee can only investigate allegations occurring since the third previous Congress, meaning the panel cannot investigate allegations occurring before 2011 unless they directly relate to an alleged violation in a more recent Congress.
Since the only allegation against Cárdenas that has surfaced is from 2007, it would appear Ethics does not have the authority to investigate him.
Democratic leaders have handled other allegations of sexual misconduct raised against other members differently.
Former Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr. had to step down from his position as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee amid allegations he sexually harassed former staffers. He was eventually pressured to resign and did so.
Pelosi called on Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a freshman with no leadership role, to resign after allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed a campaign staffer, although he did not comply with that request and instead opted not to run for re-election.