THE WASHINGTON POST OPINIONS
As the Senate was congratulating itself Thursday for its enlightened move to allow one woman, their colleague Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), to bring her newborn baby into the august chamber where Daniel Webster and Henry Clay once debated, there was another development that said far more about how far the Senate has to go on rectifying a bigger problem for women on Capitol Hill.
In a letter written by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), he and 31 other male senators belatedly followed the lead of the Senate’s 22 female members and demanded action on long-overdue updates to the ironically named Congressional Accountability Act, which governs how employment complaints are handled in the legislative branch.
As we all learned from a series of sexual harassment scandals in recent months, the current procedures are outrageously stacked in favor of the perpetrators of sexual harassment. They require anyone who speaks up to undergo counseling, mediation and a month-long “cooling off” period — in other words, submit to a drawn-out ordeal. For those victims who manage to prevail, settlements (which are usually small) are not paid by the person who committed the offense, or even by their office’s funds as is required of other federal agencies, but are paid by taxpayers.
What was missing from Merkley’s letter: The names of every single male Republican senator, with the exception of Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
Do the arithmetic. There are 100 senators. A total of 54 of them now are pushing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to do what the House has already done — pass badly needed changes to the procedures for dealing with sexual harassment complaints. Those improvements include ditching the secretive counseling and mediation process, and ending the payouts of taxpayer-funded hush money. But nearly half of the Senate did not see this as enough of a priority to sign the letter.
“If we fail to act immediately to address this systemic problem in our own workplace, we will lose all credibility in the eyes of the American public regarding our capacity to protect victims of sexual harassment or discrimination in any setting,” the senators’ letter said, echoing what the female senators of both parties had argued three weeks ago. “We urge you to bring legislation before the full Senate without delay.”
What’s the holdup here, gentlemen of the Senate? Bring it to the floor. Have a vote. And then you can go back to cooing over Tammy Duckworth’s baby.