Gillibrand snags GOP backing for new Hill harassment overhaul
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is winning significant new Republican support in her campaign to combat sexual harassment in Congress.
The New York Democrat on Thursday unveiled a proposal backed by eight GOP senators — including Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) — that would overhaul Capitol Hill’s workplace misconduct policy by making any harassment settlement public unless a victimized employee decides otherwise.
Story Continued Below
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined Cornyn in signing onto Gillibrand’s push to remodel the secretive system Congress uses to adjudicate sexual harassment complaints.
The presence of so many new Republican backers gives Gillibrand a critical boost as she presses for further action in the chamber following a week that saw three lawmakers in both parties resign over misconduct allegations. Also signing onto the bill are a dozen Democrats: Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
“Congress should never be above the law or play by their own set of rules,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “We should treat every person who works here 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.”
The new harassment reform measure is similar to Gillibrand’s initial legislation released last month, according to an early summary obtained by POLITICO. However, the bipartisan version makes a pivotal change regarding disclosure of now-secret Hill harassment settlements: Any monetary agreement reached with a congressional employee over misconduct on the job would be automatically disclosed unless the victim opts to shield the information.
That structure is designed to strike a balance between victims’ privacy — a key concern given the prevalence of blackballing and retaliation threats in harassment cases — and increased transparency for settlements that are paid using taxpayer money.
As was the case with Gillibrand’s initial bill, the bipartisan legislation would prohibit lawmakers from spending public funds on harassment settlements for which they are personally liable. The new Senate measure also would require committee-level approval of any settlement involving personal liability by a lawmaker, a change from current rules that only require one category of House misconduct settlement to get approval in committee.
Among other changes in the legislation is an end to the current requirement that congressional employees alleging harassment undergo counseling and mediation and the creation of an online system for tracking harassment complaints.