WASHINGTON — Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she knows of two current members of Congress who “have engaged in sexual harassment,” while another congresswoman, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) recounted a member who exposed himself to a female staffer.
The members were not named.
The lawmakers spoke at a House Administration Committee hearing on sexual harassment on Capitol Hill, and about pending legislation to require training for all members and their staffs, and whether further actions are necessary to establish uniform policies.
Some of the lawmakers cited the Harvey Weinstein scandal and how it has led to a number of women to come forward across Hollywood, media, and politics.
Speier last month shared her own story of harassment when she was working as a congressional staffer when a chief of staff made unwanted physical contact with her. She talked of the “rush of humiliation and anger.”
“Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long,” she said.
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At the hearing, Speier talked of two members of Congress, one a Democrat and one a Republican, who “have been subject to review or have not been subject to review, but have engaged in sexual harassment.” She was highly critical of the current process for handling complaints, characterizing it as an opaque, confusing system in which accusers face a long process of resolving their complaints. She noted that the current system requires accusers to sign non-disclosure agreements before mediation sessions, as well as a 30-day cooling off period in which the accuser is still required to work in the same office.
“There is zero accountability and zero transparency,” Speier said.
In her prepared remarks to the committee, Speier said her office had been “inundated” with calls from current and former staffers who recounted being subjected to inappropriate comments and sexual assault. That included “harassers exposing their genitals, to victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor.”
Comstock, meanwhile, told of a young female staffer who went to a member’s home to deliver some materials and was greeted by the congressman in a towel. He then exposed himself.
Noting the Weinstein scandal and how it started the #MeToo movement, Comstock said that in Congress, “We need to make it easier for the victims to come forward.”
Some 1,500 former staffers sent a letter to House and Senate leadership urging them to require mandatory training and make other changes in how the complaints are handled. The Senate passed a resolution last week to require training, and it is pending in the House.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the sponsor of the resolution, said that what is next needed is the examine the procedures in place for reporting and investigating cases of sexual harassment. She called the current process “byzantine.”
CNN posted a report on Tuesday describing a pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment. Female lawmakers, staffers and interns described the existence of a “creep list,” naming make members who are known for inappropriate behavior.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told reporters that she had been harassed when she interned on Capitol Hill, but she did not report it.
Later in the day, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he would require anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and staff.