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Why One Dem is 'Agnostic' Toward Bipartisan Effort to Stop Taxpayer-Funded Sexual Harassment Settlements

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) speaks during a news conference outside the Capitol on June 2, 2015. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) declined to support the effort to ban taxpayer dollars from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against lawmakers on Capitol Hill, explaining she is “still agnostic” toward the issue.

“So here’s the problem, in the city of Chicago, when there is misconduct by a police officer they sue the city. Why? Because you can’t get much money out of a cop to settle a claim, and so what we have to look at is justice for victims. So I’m still agnostic about the idea of whether or not – there has to be consequences for the perpetrator, there’s no question about it, and I think there has to be a continuum of sanctions for depending on what the crime is,” Schakowsky said after a press conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill focused on Democratic opposition to the Republican tax reform bill.

“So, I’m still agnostic on whether or not we can be sure that we give compensation that’s due to a victim if we make sure – because not everyone in this Congress is rich, and it’s not certain that someone who is a perpetrator of sexual harassment or worse is rich and can adequately compensate. So I understand the reluctance to use dollars that our taxpayers are contributing to pay for this, but I also worry that we will not be able to adequately compensate victims if there isn’t at least partly some of that money,” she added.

On Nov. 29, Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) introduced the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act that would prevent taxpayer money from funding sexual harassment settlements as well as require “reimbursement of the treasury by members and staff who have had taxpayer-financed settlements paid on their behalf.”

Schakowsky was asked if she would support requiring lawmakers such as Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) to fully reimburse the government for settlements that were paid with taxpayer funds. Farenthold has said he would voluntarily reimburse the Treasury and Conyers recently announced his retirement from Congress.

“Yeah, I mean, I certainly think, you know, you can’t always get water from a rock. But, you know, I do think that there has to be some kind of accountability and that can certainly include dollars from the perpetrator,” Schakowsky replied. “But I wouldn’t want that to interfere with what the individual victim gets. But, you know, asking for reimbursement and asking for compensation certainly, I think, that ought to be part of it.”

Schakowsky said she wants to see what’s in the specific bill but she has concerns with the premise of banning taxpayer funds from paying for any portion of sexual harassment settlements.

“Here’s my concern. I think that there is a whole continuum from unwanted language or you know, a hand on the butt, to actually having a sexual predator going after young underage girls like we have with Roy Moore. I think there’s a continuum and I think there also needs to be a continuum of sanctions against those people – it is not one thing. And so we don’t have a process right now, a process that the public feels is credible, that is fair to the victim that also offers due process to the accused – and it’s about time I think that we have one,” she said.

“I’ve had from the day I got here my office handbook; my policies in the office have been very, very clear prohibiting these things. We also, by the way, I think for, as political party, ought to require anybody who wants support of that party during a campaign to make very clear what their policies are in harassment and hold them accountable and not get support from the party if there are violations of that,” Schakowsky added.

She continued, “So, you know, this is a very important conversation that is probably 2,000 years overdue. I mean, women have been abused and it ranges, as I said, from sexism, which is an everyday occurrence that women suffer, all the way to sexual assault and being a predator.”