WASHINGTON — Two female lawmakers, one Republican and one Democrat, shared stories at a hearing Tuesday about male members of Congress who engaged in sexual harassment, though they declined to name them.
Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has long pressed for a stronger congressional anti-harassment system, testified before a House Administration Committee hearing on misconduct that she is aware of two sitting lawmakers, one in each party, who have perpetrated sexual misdeeds. Before Speier spoke, however, Representative Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) said a member “decided to expose himself” to a young female aide sent to drop off materials at his home.
The young staffer was “greeted with a member in a towel,” Comstock told fellow lawmakers, who “invited her in” before committing the offense.
“She left, she found another job,” Comstock said. “But that kind of situation — what are we doing here for women right now who are dealing with somebody like that?”
Comstock’s remarks suggest that Speier’s push for broad reform of Congress’ harassment policy, spearheaded in the Senate by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), might find bipartisan support. The Virginia Republican also acknowledged the bipartisan character of the sexual offenses that have walloped Hollywood, the media, and politics, citing prominent alleged perpetrators of all political stripes, including Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, and Kevin Spacey.
Speier shared a sampling of anonymous harassment victims’ stories, including some who have had “their private parts grabbed on the House floor.”
But she also credited colleagues in both parties with willingness to undertake a “complex and at times uncomfortable” dialogue about deterring harassment and helping victims.
Representative Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), the administration panel’s chairman, aligned himself with female lawmakers’ push for change.
“There is no place for sexual harassment in our society, period — and especially in Congress,” Harper told fellow members, urging them to use an “even higher standard” for their own behavior and that of their employees.
Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), a veteran employment attorney, proposed that lawmakers be required to pay for resolving workplace misconduct disputes that occur in their offices, a change from the current system that spends taxpayer money on confidential settlements.
The Senate last week approved a resolution instituting mandatory harassment training for members and aides, a shift from the current voluntary standard. The House is expected to follow suit but has yet to make the shift, and Speier called for a sweeping overhaul of a system that can force harassment victims to wait for months, and undergo mandatory mediation, before filing a complaint.
Speier and Gillibrand have yet to draw GOP cosponsors for their broader harassment legislation, which is set for formal introduction later this week.