WASHINGTON (AP) — The House easily approved a bipartisan measure Wednesday requiring lawmakers and aides to take annual anti-harassment training as lawmakers faced heavy pressure to address burgeoning sexual misconduct allegations against members of Congress.
Passage, by voice vote, came as Congress battled over Republican tax cuts and a potential government shutdown, even as lawmakers were forced to address accusations against some of their own. They included liberal heroes Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken and far-right GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama.
With Conyers being pressed to resign from Congress by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others, Pelosi seemed to suggest it was time for the long-serving liberal icon to step down.
“No matter how great the legacy, it is not a license to harass and abuse,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said without mentioning the 88-year-old Michigan Democrat’s name. She said Congress should have zero tolerance for abuse, “no matter your contribution to our country.”
Earlier, House Speaker Paul Ryan said there should be no room for sexual harassment “in any workplace, let alone in the United States Congress.” Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters that having a hostile environment on Capitol Hill is “a disgrace” and added, “We will not tolerate that kind of behavior.”
Despite the unanimity in addressing the problem, there was discord as one Democrat complained that leaders weren’t being aggressive enough.
Conyers surrendered his post as the House Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat after a report that he’d quietly settled a complaint by a former aide who said he’d harassed her, but at least three of his colleagues have said he should quit the House. Conyers has denied the charges.
One critic, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said she left a meeting of House Democrats early because the harassment issue wasn’t being taken seriously enough. She cited recent firings of media figures by their companies and told reporters, “We don’t do the same, and I think it’s a disgrace.”
Top Democrats disputed that, and one senior aide said eight lawmakers discussed the issue at Wednesday’s closed-door meeting.
Ryan told reporters that Conyers had “made the right decision” by leaving his Judiciary post. Conyers has returned to Detroit.
But the speaker sidestepped a question on whether lawmakers should more vocally address some women’s claims that they were sexually harassed by Donald Trump before he became president. Trump has denied the allegations.
“Right now we’re focused on making sure this place works the right way,” Ryan said.
Underscoring lawmakers’ concerns that they be viewed as addressing the issue properly, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he’d complete his anti-harassment training on Wednesday. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said that at a closed-door meeting Wednesday of House Republicans, Ryan told them, “‘Make sure by the end of this month you can say you’ve gone through training.’”
Lawmakers say the House anti-harassment training measure, similar to a plan the Senate already approved, is merely a first step. They are considering legislation that would strengthen Congress’ lax and lengthy procedures for workers who want to lodge complaints. That includes the little-known practice in which lawmakers settle complaints with federally financed settlements for which recipients must promise to not publicly discuss the allegations.
Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., a sponsor of Wednesday’s House resolution, said in a brief interview that lawmakers are considering ending taxpayer-funded settlements, giving victims of alleged harassment more rights and requiring more information about complaints to be publicly released.
Franken was accused by one woman of forcibly kissing her during a USO tour in the Middle East in 2006, and three others have said he grabbed their buttocks while posing for pictures. Franken has apologized and said he welcomes a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.
In Alabama, Moore faces allegations of preying on teenage girls decades ago. Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have called on Moore to drop his candidacy, saying they believe the women, but Trump has all but endorsed Moore.
In addition, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has apologized after a nude photo of him was leaked on social media.