Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she only learned Wednesday of misconduct allegations against freshman Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), though her staff had learned of it earlier and decided against briefing her.
“There had been a rumor, but just that,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday at her weekly news conference. “A one-, two-, three-person rumor that had been reported to Mr. Hoyer’s office and reported to my staff, which they did not report to me because you know what? This is rumor city. There are rumors. I have a job to do, and I’ve been doing just that.”
Massa is battling accusations that he sexually harassed a male staff member — a charge that the ethics committee is reviewing. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) revealed Wednesday night that his office was informed of the allegations the week of Feb. 8. He instructed staff that if Massa didn’t report the allegations to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct within 48 hours, Hoyer would do so himself, his spokeswoman said in a statement.
Massa announced Wednesday that he would not be seeking re-election, pointing to a recent cancer diagnosis. He denied the move resulted from any charges of ethical wrongdoing. Pelosi said the upstate New Yorker called her Wednesday to inform her of his health situation and his decision to retire from the House. “That was the first I heard about that,” Pelosi said.
The development came as House Democrats were already struggling with the fallout of Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-N.Y.) ethics admonishment for taking corporate-funded trips. Amid mounting pressure from junior Democrats, Rangel surrendered his Ways and Means Committee gavel on Wednesday morning. Pelosi originally stood up for Rangel after the ethics wrist slap. But by Tuesday, she recognized the political necessity of moving him aside and facilitated the transfer of power on the tax-writing panel. On Thursday, she called the handing off of the gavel to the committee’s third-ranking member, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), a “very big change.”
And the Speaker defended the party’s record on ethics, pointing to Democrats’ success establishing an outside panel to review complaints and an ethics committee that she said is now functioning. “We know that when you’re effective, you’re a target, and any target will do,” she said. As far as the events of this week, she said, “They’re behind us.”