AUSTIN, Texas — Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas lawmaker under fire over a sexual harassment lawsuit, will retire from Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday.
He is the fourth member of Congress to resign this month amid a Capitol Hill firestorm over sexual harassment that's felling lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“I had a couple conversations with Blake Farenthold yesterday and I think he’s making the right decision to retire,” Ryan said. "Unacceptable behavior has been alleged in those stories.”
Farenthold, who was seeking a fifth term representing the Coastal Bend area of Texas, has been under intense fire since it was disclosed that he settled a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former aide with $84,000 in taxpayers’ money. He has said the settlement was a strategic decision to put the matter to rest even though he insists the charges are untrue.
His decision also follows a recent CNN report detailing alleged harassment from a second former staff member, Michael Rekola, who was Farenthold's communications director in 2015. Rekola described behavior ranging from making sexually graphic jokes to bullying that Rekola says led him to seek medical treatment and psychological counseling.
Farenthold's campaign team told Mike Bergsma, the chairman of the Nueces County (Texas) Republican County Thursday that Farenthold would not seek re-election next year.
"He's been an excellent congressman, and I'm sorry this has happened," Bergma said. "One wonders whether anyone could have survived scrutiny that intense."
A statement from Farenthold's camp was expected later Thursday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the reports “are shocking, unacceptable and must be respected. Congressman Farenthold should resign.”
Last week, three members of Congress were forced from office amid varied reports of sexual harassment or misconduct, while a trio of women who've accused President Trump of inappropriate sexual behavior resurfaced to call for a congressional investigation. Calls from Democrats for a probe of Trump's past treatment of women intensified after he sent a tweet targeting Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that she called a "sexist smear."
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., resigned after a series of accusations from women who said he groped or harassed them. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the longest-serving current member of Congress, also stepped down, along with Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., also resigned amid reports he discussed with female staffers the possibility they could be surrogates for his and his wife's baby.
The U.S. House Ethics Committee is looking in the allegations even though the Office of Congressional Ethics has said the allegations were unfounded.
Meantime confronting the issue of sexual harassment in Congress and society at large appears to be among few with broad bipartisan support.
In a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll, three in four of those surveyed — including overwhelming majorities of men and women, Republicans and Democrats, said the issue was a major one that needed real solutions. Fewer than one in five said too much was being made of a furor that has rattled Hollywood, politics, the news media and more.
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Contributing: Eliza Collins