House Committee Reviews Sexual Harassment on Hill

Examines policy for legislators settling complaints

Congress was doing some process-related soul searching Thursday (Dec. 7) on the issue of sexual harassment and misconduct.

The Committee on House Administration held a hearing on "preventing sexual harassment in the congressional workplace," including a discussion on updating the rules around how legislators can settle such claims.

That has become more of an issue in the Senate, where Sen. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has resigned in the wake of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations and at least one settlement, while Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), under a similar cloud, has been pressured to do so by a majority of his own party and was expected Thursday (Dec. 7) to announce he would be stepping down.

"There is no place for sexual harassment in our society, especially in Congress, period," said committee chair Gregg Harper (R-Miss.).

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has tasked the committee with a review of the issue and the Congressional Accountability Act.

Harper said Congress should be holding itself to a higher standard.

The committee is reviewing the process for settlements of sexual harassment allegations by legislators, which has become a big issue since it was revealed that millions of dollars have been paid out in those and other types of settlements.

Ranking member Robert Brady (D-Pa.) said Congress owed it to the American people to reform the act and "get this right."

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said the public uproar began in other places, but has "shaken this institution to the core." But he suggested the hearing was part of a bipartisan commitment to zero tolerance and that Congress needs a process that implements the value that sexual harassment would be "unthinkable in these halls."

That means a process that moves swiftly to identify and punish. He said the process will be painful, but that the "sordid practice" must be weeded out.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said the act perversely punishes the objects of sexual harassment. She said the Office of Compliance is mandated to do things through the act that hurt the victim.

A MeToo Congress Act attempts to reform the office, but Speier said she thinks it does not go far enough. She also said that there should be an independent investigation of allegations, rather than by the House's own ethics committee. "Shame on us for not having addressed this sooner."

In the audience for the hearing was former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson, who last year made sexual harassment allegations at the network in what became one of the first of a now long slate of such charges across media, entertainment, politics and elsewhere.