New Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Training for Congress as Lawmakers Accuse Colleagues

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks following a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Nov. 14, 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — After women lawmakers revealed stories of Capitol Hill harassment at a House Administration Committee hearing, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) today directed that all lawmakers and staff will receive mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training.

“Today’s hearing was another important step in our efforts to combat sexual harassment and ensure a safe workplace. I want to especially thank my colleagues who shared their stories,” Ryan said in a statement announcing the new policy.

“Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution,” he added. “As we work with the Administration, Ethics, and Rules committees to implement mandatory training, we will continue our review to make sure the right policies and resources are in place to prevent and report harassment.”

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) told at the hearing the story of a young female staffer asked to deliver work materials to a lawmaker’s residence, where he greeted the staff wearing only a towel and then exposed himself to her. The staffer quit her job. Comstock did not name the lawmaker.

“That kind of situation, what are we doing here for women, right now, who are dealing with someone like that?” she asked.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said there are at least two current members of Congress — one Republican, one Democrat — who have engaged in sexual harassment.

Speier told MSNBC that she wouldn’t violate the non-disclosure agreement of those who were subjected to the harassment by outing the offenders.

“One member of Congress has been — has settled a claim, and there has been a taxpayer settlement,” she said. “I think you do have the right to know. But right now, under the system, you don’t have a right to know… we do know that there is about $15 million that has been paid out by the House on behalf of harassers in the last 10 to 15 years.”

“…One of the survivors I spoke to said, you know, going through the process of filing a complaint was almost worse than the harassment. So, this system has to be changed here.”

Sexual harassment training has also been mandated in the Senate. “The second thing we’re now doing with the rules committee, and there’s a group of us working on this, is reviewing the reporting requirements and what’s going on,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told reporters outside of a caucus meeting on Capitol Hill today. “That will require a law change that would cover both houses, and that’s the compliance office … something we also have to look at.”

“Back in 1995, people looked at this differently,” she added. “We’re adding more and more women to the workplace every day, but we are nowhere near where we should be. And I think part of that is I always — when I look at this, it is not just about toppling famous people. This is also about the shift worker, it’s about the nurse in the hospital, the teacher in the school. And it’s about having things that create a work environment where people can actually rise up.”

“You wonder why there’s only 21 women in the Senate, or why there’s hardly any — no women running Hollywood studios, or there’s hardly any women running major businesses. Well, when you have work environments where people feel like they can’t get ahead without having to put out, that’s what happens.”