WASHINGTON – The ongoing deluge of sexual harassment allegations on Capitol Hill has put old claims – including those against President Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton – in the spotlight.
In an interview on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, went further than many of her GOP colleagues have been willing to go in recent days in expressing worry about the sexual harassment allegations Trump has faced and denied.
“Those allegations remain very disturbing,” Collins said. She said that she did not support Trump in the 2016 campaign, in part because of news reports involving those claims about his treatment of women.
Asked the same question on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said voters had already made their judgment.
“Whatever they had to say, people heard that, and they elected President Trump president of the United States,” he said.
Late last week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told The New York Times that Clinton should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal – an unexpected and fraught position that few of her Democratic colleagues have taken.
When questioned about Gillibrand’s comments on “Meet the Press,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., dodged: “I want to go forward,” she said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., echoed Dingell’s words. “I don’t think that, at this moment, our goal is to look back 20 years or 30 years,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., noted that Clinton did face impeachment – “it wasn’t as if it was just tossed to the side,” she said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” But she added that Clinton’s accusers “were not treated as they should have been.”
Speier said the United States is experiencing a “huge cultural shift” when it comes to sexual misconduct. If Trump were running today, she said, “I bet he would not be elected.” She did not say the same of Clinton.
Within Congress, many female members say sexual harassment is pervasive. At a hearing Tuesday, Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., told the story of a male member who allegedly tricked a female staffer into coming to his residence and then greeted her clothed only in a towel. Speier told of harassers exposing themselves to staff members or touching women’s private parts on the House floor. Speier said she knows two sitting members of Congress who have engaged in sexual harassment but have not been subject to review, though she did not name them.
On Friday, Dingell told CNN that a “prominent historical person” had put his hand up her skirt during a dinner party decades ago, when she was newly married to then-Rep. John Dingell, whom she replaced in Congress in 2015. She also said that a senator made unwanted advances toward her.
“I don’t know a woman that doesn’t have a story in all places across the country,” Debbie Dingell said Sunday.
Just one accuser has named names: Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden said Thursday that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., forcibly kissed and groped her a decade ago, when he was not in office. In an apology, Franken said that Tweeden’s accusation was true and that he would “gladly cooperate” with an investigation by the Senate’s ethics committee.
Most of Franken’s colleagues, Republican and Democrat, said Sunday that an ethics investigation was the right response to the allegations.
“They all deserve due process,” Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to both Franken and a Republican Senate candidate from Alabama whom nine women have accused of sexual misconduct.
But Comstock, who was among the first women in the House to call for Roy Moore, the Alabama candidate, to step aside after a Washington Post report alleged that he inappropriately pursued underage girls decades ago, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that she still hopes Moore “will do that and do the right thing ... For that matter, Al Franken can go hit the door with him.”
Though the Senate has authority to kick out members, it hasn’t happened since the Civil War.
Meanwhile, many lawmakers say prevailing policies on how to handle harassment in Congress are inadequate. Speier called the Congressional Office of Compliance “an enabler” when it comes to sexual misconduct. Settlement payments in cases of workplace violations come out of a special U.S. Treasury fund – rather than from the accused member’s office.
“We have a system in place that allows for the harasser to go unchecked,” she said on “Face the Nation.”
On “Meet the Press,” Blunt also criticized the system as “totally inappropriate,” noting that the rules require congressional employees to go through months of counseling and a mediation process before filing a sexual harassment complaint.
A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill requiring members and staff to undergo training to prevent sexual misconduct.
“There wasn’t even the kind of training – training is the wrong word for it – exposure to what sexual harassment is that is required in the federal sector and the private sector,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., told Stephanopoulos. “I am convinced that many women even may not understand what some unwelcome advances are. And that they don’t have to welcome them, or they can turn them away.”