WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) began the week battling with President Trump over her call for the commander in chief to resign over sexual harassment allegations; today, she and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) joined forces on legislation to combat sexual harassment in Congress.
The new bipartisan bill was also introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who withheld funding from Roy Moore’s campaign in Alabama over the candidate’s sexual abuse allegations and said the former judge should be expelled from the upper chamber if he had won.
Cruz and Gillibrand have been allies for years on efforts to take military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.
The legislation eliminates taxpayer-funded settlement payments for sexual harassment cases, and converts the Office of Compliance to the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights; all members and staff will have to receive training from the office. All staffers including interns and fellows would be covered by the new rules, which would make mediation and non-disclosure agreements no longer mandatory.
There would be a new confidential advisor to help walk employees on Capitol Hill through harassment or discrimination claims, and staffers would be able to work remotely without fear of reprisal while their claim is being investigated and processed.
Not only would lawmakers have to pay settlements out of their own pockets, but their House or Senate colleagues on the appropriate committees would have to sign off on the amounts. Settlements would automatically become public record unless the victim chooses to keep it confidential.
“In recent months, we’ve seen wave after wave of appalling sexual harassment and assault allegations — from Hollywood, to newsrooms, to the halls of Congress. And powerful men who have abused their positions have been held to account,” Cruz said. “Congress is not above the laws, and secret settlements with taxpayer money to cover up harassment should no longer be tolerated. This legislation seeks to empower victims of harassment to report those crimes and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”
Gillibrand stressed that every person on Capitol Hill should be treated “with respect and dignity, and that means creating a climate where there is accountability, fairness, respect, and access to justice if sexual harassment takes place.”
“There are real costs to sexual harassment in the workplace. We now know that many people quit their jobs because of it, or miss out on promotions or raises, all of which can throw off the entire trajectory in their careers,” she said. “We must ensure that Congress handles complaints to create an environment where staffers can come forward if something happens to them, without having to fear that it will ruin their careers. This bipartisan legislation would bring us much closer to that goal.”
Gardner said the #MeToo movement has been “a much-needed transformation when it comes to listening to courageous women share their stories about harassment.”
“No one should be forced to work in an environment where they are made to feel uncomfortable or intimidated,” he said. “Let me be extremely clear: sexual harassment and workplace misconduct has no place in America, and certainly has no place in the United States Congress.”
Also introducing the legislation were Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).