Female lawmakers have been at the forefront of the push to revamp Congress’s sexual harassment policies. This has prompted some action, but not to the extent that some may deem appropriate or necessary.
All 22 female U.S. senators have expressed “deep disappointment” at their chamber’s delay in approving changes to the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, which governs employee complaints in the legislative branch, my colleague Elise Viebeck previously reported.
Members of the #MeToo movement have criticized the Congressional Accountability Act for requiring that victims of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill go through counseling, mediation and a month-long “cooling off” period before they can file suit against their harassers.
Women in Congress have voiced frustration that congressional leaders have not allowed votes on improving the system for reporting and adjudicating complaints of sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct on the Hill.
The 22 female senators recently sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that said:
“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. … No longer can we allow the perpetrators of these crimes to hide behind a 23-year-old law.”
Well, according to Politico, some men in Congress have heard their co-workers’ complaints — but only some of them.
Thirty-two male senators — all Democrats except for one, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — sent a letter to McConnell and Schumer demanding that Congress deal forcefully with this issue:
“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.”
Ray Zaccaro, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who organized the letter effort, said, “There is no place for sexual harassment in Congress, and Senator Merkley looks forward to a broad bipartisan effort to make the Senate a harassment-free workplace.”
Most U.S. men have expressed concern about workplace sexual harassment. According to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll, more than eight in 10 men believe that sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem. But when controlled for Republicans, that number drops to 74 percent. And only 62 percent of adults as a whole believe that the amount of attention given to the issue of workplace harassment will bring lasting change in the way that U.S. society deals with it.
But it is not clear what that change might mean to those surveyed. Perhaps the change is simply about raising awareness. Perhaps it is more than that. Regardless, what seems clear is that as of this moment, Republican men in the GOP-controlled Congress are not leading the way on tackling this problem.
Republican lawmakers as a whole — men and women — have been accused of not being aggressive enough in condemning male GOP politicians facing sexual assault and related allegations, including former Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls decades ago, and President Trump, who is facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.
How Republican men in Congress respond to the pressures of the #MeToo movement, especially in their own corridors of power, will help voters determine whether combating sexual harassment in the workplace is as much of a priority for these lawmakers as it is for the American people.