WASHINGTON — Freshman Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a rising star in Nevada politics, will not resign his seat amid allegations of sexual harassment despite calls to do so from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of Nevada’s congressional delegation, a Democratic political operative said.
Kihuen spoke with Pelosi late Friday evening about allegations that he propositioned a campaign aide for sex and touched her thighs without consent.
After speaking with Pelosi, Kihuen decided early Saturday that “he’s not going to resign,” said a Democratic operative familiar with the congressman’s decision. “He’s not stepping down.”
Pelosi issued a statement Friday that said, “In light of these upsetting allegations, Congressman Kihuen should resign.” Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement that said, “Congressman Kihuen should resign.”
A telephone call to Kihuen on Saturday was not returned.
The allegations of sexual harassment were first reported Friday by BuzzFeed. The story said Kihuen, who is 37 and unmarried, harassed and made advances toward his campaign finance director, 25, identified only as Samantha.
She told the media outlet she left the campaign because of the harassment. A telephone call to Samantha on Saturday was not returned.
Pelosi spoke with Lujan and Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., before calling for Kihuen’s resignation.
Kihuen spoke to Pelosi about his options before conferring with others on how to proceed, the Democrat familiar with the decision said. It was determined that Kihuen could best defend himself against the allegations while in office.
Reputation as a playboy
Kihuen is the latest male politician to be accused of making unwanted sexual advances.
Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., have been accused of sexual harassment. Senate candidate Roy Moore, an Alabama Republican, has been accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls decades ago.
Kihuen has worked in politics for most of his adult life and was a protégé of former Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid. He spent nearly 10 years in the Nevada Legislature in both the Assembly and Senate before being elected last year to represent Nevada’s 4th Congressional District.
Sources who worked with Kihuen in the Legislature told the Las Vegas Review-Journal they are not shocked at the allegations, as Kihuen had developed a reputation as a playboy during his time in Carson City. But those people said they believed all relationships and interactions Kihuen had with women were mutual.
State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who was appointed to the state Senate District 10 seat vacated when Kihuen was elected to the U.S. House, was a lobbyist for Las Vegas’ Culinary Local 226 when Kihuen was a state senator. Cancela told the Review-Journal in a phone interview Saturday that she always “found Ruben to be professional” and was unaware of any misconduct by him during his time in the Legislature.
“It’s heartbreaking to read the words of a young woman in a situation no person should ever be put in. I’m struggling to reconcile the fact someone who has been a leader in our community and who I worked hard to elect is being accused of indefensible behavior,” Cancela said in a statement Saturday. “I’m grateful to every woman who has the courage to come forward and share her story.”
Calls to resign
Kihuen, in a statement issued through his office Friday, said he has no memory of the alleged incidents.
“I sincerely apologize for anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable. I take this matter seriously as it is not indicative of who I am, but I want to make it clear that I don’t recall any of the circumstances she described,” Kihuen said.
Nonetheless, reaction to the allegations was swift, with many Nevada political leaders calling for Kihuen to resign the seat he has held for less than a year.
“Many believed Ruben had great potential, but unfortunately his personal behavior has jeopardized his political career,” Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said.
Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., who also elected to Congress for the first time last year, called for Kihuen’s resignation.
“The culture where this behavior is brushed aside has gone on for too long, and I believe Congressman Kihuen should step aside,” Rosen said in a statement.
Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, state Sen. Scott Hammond, a Republican candidate for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, and Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald also called for Kihuen to step down.
A trio of state Democrats on Friday lambasted Kihuen but did not call outright for his immediate resignation. State Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, and Nevada’s other U.S. Senator, Catherine Cortez Masto in separate statements praised the woman for coming forward and said Kihuen’s actions should be investigated.
Contact Gary Martin at email@example.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. Contact Michael Scott Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477- 3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter. Staff writer Colton Lochhead contributed to this story.