Nevada Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen announced Saturday that he would not seek reelection amid sexual harassment allegations from his former campaign finance director.
In early December, BuzzFeed News first reported the allegations of the former staffer, who said Kihuen repeatedly harassed and made sexual advances toward her last year during his campaign, leading her to quit after only a few months on the job.
A second woman then told the Nevada Independent earlier this week that Kihuen had repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward her when she was a lobbyist and he was a state senator.
"I want to state clearly again that I deny the allegations in question," Kihuen said in a statement on Saturday. "I am committed to fully cooperating with the House Ethics Committee and I look forward to clearing my name."
"However, the allegations that have surfaced would be a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a reelection campaign," he said. "Therefore, it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to complete my term in Congress and not seek reelection."
In the aftermath of the BuzzFeed News report, there had been swift calls for the freshman Democrat to step down: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján called for his resignation when presented with the details of the article and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Kihuen should resign several hours later, but he refused to do so.
Kihuen's decision not to seek reelection comes less than two weeks after Rep. John Conyers, the longest serving member of Congress, resigned over sexual harassment allegations first revealed by BuzzFeed News.
The Nevada Democrat was elected to Congress last November and is a longtime protégé of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Kihuen is a DREAMer and often talked about his immigrant experience on the campaign trail and in Congress, pushing for legislation to protect those, like himself, who were brought to the US illegally as children. The subject was also central to his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Before entering Congress, Kihuen spent a decade in the Nevada legislature.
Kihuen’s former campaign finance director, Samantha (whose last name BuzzFeed News withheld), alleged that Kihuen propositioned her for dates and sex despite repeated rejections. She said he touched her thighs twice without consent.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News for the initial story, Kihuen said:
The staff member in question was a valued member of my team. 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. I was raised in a strong family that taught me to treat women with the utmost dignity and respect. I have spent my fifteen years in public service fighting for women’s equality, and I will continue to do so.
Later the same day, Kihuen’s office sent out a new statement adding that he wanted to “make it clear that I don’t recall any of the circumstances.” His office didn’t respond to a BuzzFeed News inquiry asking whether he denied the events occurred as described.
Dozens who have been around Kihuen over the years described to BuzzFeed News a pattern of behavior from him that was teetering on the brink of misconduct. In interviews with at least 30 men and women who have worked in Nevada politics in Carson City and in Las Vegas, Kihuen was repeatedly described as a "playboy" whose reputation for constantly pursuing and flirting with young women was an "open secret."
One former Nevada State Assembly intern said, in settings with alcohol, she routinely saw Kihuen making inappropriate jokes and at times giving unwanted, long hugs and touches.
"Ruben tends to be very touchy-feely and flirtatious to begin with," the intern said. "The more you just let it go, the farther along he gets."
Kihuen's full statement:
Nothing is more important to me than my family and serving my constituents. It is the greatest honor of my life to represent Nevada’s Fourth District as a Member of the United States House of Representatives.
The support and encouragement of my constituents provides me with the strength and guidance to represent Nevada to the best of my abilities.
I want to state clearly again that I deny the allegations in question. I am committed to fully cooperating with the House Ethics Committee and I look forward to clearing my name.
Due process and the presumption of innocence are bedrock legal principles which have guided our nation for centuries, and they should not be lost to unsubstantiated hearsay and innuendo.
However, the allegations that have surfaced would be a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a reelection campaign. Therefore, it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to complete my term in Congress and not seek reelection.