Does Congress Have a Sexual Assault Problem?
On Thursday, Minnesota Senator Al Franken announced on the Senate floor that he “will be resigning in the coming weeks.” The senator’s resignation comes after several women accused him of sexual misconduct as well as pressure from Democrats in the Senate.
The democratic senator’s announcement follows a wave of sexual misconduct allegations on Capitol Hill. Longtime Democratic representative and Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers stepped down earlier in the week. In addition, Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona also recently resigned in midst of “credible claims of misconduct.”
It seems that Democrats and Republicans have different approaches to tackling sexual assault claims. When allegations against Franken first came out, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) stated that “he [Franken] has an obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and should resign immediately.” Not long after, 7 female Democratic Senators called for Franken to resign in a joint statement. A chorus of more than 20 senators followed suit.
Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee recently endorsed Roy Moore, the embattled senate candidate from Alabama. Moore has been under scrutiny after nine women have come forward and accused him of inappropriate sexual misconduct. The RNC’s endorsement of Moore comes after President Trump officially endorsed the Republican candidate.
When allegations against Moore first rose, Sen. McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that he believes Moore’s accusers. He said he “believes the women” and that Moore “should step aside.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a news briefing, “The president said in his statement earlier this week that if the allegations are true then Roy Moore should step aside.”
It seems that the president changed his mind. After the White House said Moore should step aside and that Trump will not be actively campaigning for Moore, the president held a rally in Florida on Friday, in which he urged Alabama voters to support Moore. Following the rally, Trump took a dig at Democratic senate candidate for Alabama, Doug Jones, and said, “VOTE ROY MOORE!” in a tweet.
It seems that Sen. McConnell also had a change of heart. When asked whether he condemns Moore’s actions in an interview with CBS, McConnell said, “It is really up to them. … But in the end, the voters of Alabama will make their choice.”
Questions about how sexual misconduct is handled on Capitol Hill have followed the allegations, and it seems that there’s a discrepancy in the way these issues are handled. For one, there is the House Committee on Ethics, whose job is “to enforce standards of conduct for members, officers and employees; to investigate alleged violations of any law, rule or regulation; and to make recommendations to the House for further action.”
There is also the Office of Compliance, whose duties include providing sexual harassment training, a requirement for every lawmaker’s office in the House and Senate. While this helps with prevention, it does not have a defined standard for how sexual harassment claims are treated. Susan Tsui Grundmann, the executive director at the office, said, “it is possible to have 535 different policies.” Grundmann also said, “Over the last six weeks, we have seen a triple-digit percentage increase in the number of requests for in-person sexual harassment prevention training.”
Without a set of clear rules detailing the process when a sexual misconduct claim comes up, this leaves both members of Congress and those individuals harassed in a conflicted state.