WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters on Capitol Hill today that a “different standard” isn’t being applied to members of Congress on sexual harassment, stressing that “we don’t want to make one-off decisions” on reforming the sexual harassment claim review process that critics contend is too onerous for the victim.
House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) said outside a closed caucus meeting that his panel is reviewing how to move forward, including sexual misconduct training for members and staff. “If there’s one claim of sexual harassment, that is one too many. And this cannot be tolerated,” Harper said.
“This begins at the top with the member having the responsibility that they set the tone for their office, along with the chief, all the way down to even an intern,” he added. “This is something we can do and we will do and we’ll get this right.”
Ryan added that “sexual harassment has no place in any workplace, let alone in the United States Congress.”
“The fact that some people end up walking these halls are subjected to a threatening or hostile work environment when they came here to serve their country, to serve their ideals, that’s wrong,” he said. “That’s a disgrace.”
The Speaker was asked whether “leading by example on sexual harassment mean Congress should say more” about the 16 women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual misconduct.
“I’m just making sure this place works the right way,” Ryan replied. “Right now we’re focused on making sure that the Congressional Accountability Act, which was passed in 1995, gets updated the way it needs to. And that’s why we’re having Chairman Harper and Chairwoman Brooks will be involved in that as well.”
On whether Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) should step down, Ryan said, “Look, I know what I would do if this happened to me. I will leave it up to him to decide what he wants to do. I think he made the right decision in stepping down from his leadership position.”
Conyers, who has served in Congress more than five decades, left his ranking member role at the House Judiciary Committee amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
Ryan said he doesn’t know the names of currently serving members involved in sexual harassment settlements. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said at a hearing earlier this month that she knew of one Democrat and one Republican currently in Congress who have sexually harassed staffers.
“We’re waiting for the committee to review the entire process to see how this settlements issue needs to be addressed, reformed going forward. We don’t want to make one-off decisions. We want to make a comprehensive review of the entire situation. And we do not get these names,” he said.
Harper noted that “since the inception of the Congressional Accountability Act back in 1995, settlements have been paid out from 1997 to the present, we’re told, total about $17 million on 260-plus claims.”
“So what we don’t have, and we’re trying to get, and believe that we will ultimately get, is a breakdown on how many of those claims are member sexual harassment. I think that’s a fair question; something that we should be able to come up with,” the chairman said. “Included in that is for the entire legislative branch, all of those claims. So 2002, there were a large number of anthrax claims. In 2007 there were asbestos claims. So you have those that come through the — for instance, the Capitol Police, the architect of the Capitol. And then there are those that come through House offices.”