Women in the Senate are making sure the days of sweeping misconduct under the rug are over.
Women in the Senate are tired of the inaction on sexual harassment. And now they are calling for action with one voice.
A letter to Senate leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), written by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Patty Murray (D-WA), demands immediate reform of the laws that allow lawmakers to settle misconduct allegations with little or no consequence. It has been co-signed by every single one of the women in the Senate — 22 in all, from both parties.
“We write to express our deep disappointment that the Senate has failed to enact meaningful reforms to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995,” says the letter. “Everyone deserves to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination.”
As the letter notes, the House has already acted. Their bill “includes a number of important provisions, such as eliminating waiting periods before a victim can take their case to court, increased transparency for awards and settlements, and a requirement that Members of the Senate and House pay for an award or settlement stemming from a case of sexual harassment or discrimination that they personally commit.”
Additionally, a new resolution “provides House staff who are survivors of harassment or discrimination access to free legal representation. Senate staff who face similar harassment or discrimination must pay personally for legal representation or represent themselves through complicated legal proceedings.”
“Inaction is unacceptable when a survey shows that four out of 10 women congressional staffers believe that sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill and one out of six women in the same survey responded that they have been the survivors of sexual harassment,” the letter concludes. “No longer can we allow the perpetrators of these crimes to hide behind a 23-year-old law.”
It is rare for every woman in the Senate — all 17 Democrats and all five Republicans — to unanimously agree on anything. But among women, the drive to eliminate discrimination on Capitol Hill knows no party. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), for example, has been prominent in the fight to reform harassment policies in the Senate Rules Committee.
Among male lawmakers, however, a partisan divide is visible. Chuck Schumer agreed with the women senators who pushed for Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to resign following misconduct allegations. By contrast, House Speaker Paul Ryan has not kept retiring Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) to his word about paying back over $80,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment suit.
The women serving in the Senate are sending a clear message. It is time for Congress to lead by example, and take a stand for equal dignity and rights.