In addition, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a co-chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus on Black Women and Girls, plans to wear a red pin in honor of Recy Taylor, and is encouraging other colleagues to do the same. Taylor, an African-American woman from Alabama, was raped by a group of white men in the 1940s, and her decision to speak out about what happened despite death threats made her a towering civil rights figure.
Congress addressing its own issues
Meehan, who was stripped of his spot on the House Ethics Committee by House Speaker Paul Ryan, has denied pursuing a romantic relationship with his former aide but said he had “affection for her” and considered her his “soul mate.” The House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into the aide’s accusations and the possibility that Meehan misused official resources by using funds from his congressional office to settle her complaint.
CNN contacted the congressional office of each member of Congress and asked each member whether they were ever accused of sexual harassment or settled a claim. Roughly 40 offices did not respond. Meehan’s office was one of those.
While non-responses do not suggest or translate to wrongdoing, the dozens of offices that were unwilling to provide answers appear to suggest that sexual harassment remains an uncomfortable topic for many elected officials, even amid widespread calls for more openness and transparency.
Updating the laws for the Hill
Congress is also currently engaged in a debate on how to best handle sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers unveiled a long-awaited plan to tackle those complaints. Supporters say the bill is the most significant step in recent years toward addressing sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and that it would make the process less arduous for victims.
The legislation would streamline the process a House of Representatives employee must go through to report a workplace claim, including eliminating the mandatory 30-day counseling and mediation period. It would also require members of Congress to repay the Treasury fund controlled by the Office of Compliance within 90 days, including members who leave office, and would require that each claim in which an award or settlement is made be referred to the House Ethics Committee — something that is currently not done automatically.
Under existing law, there is currently no requirement that lawmakers repay the fund for settlements made with taxpayer money — though one lawmaker, Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, has said he plans to repay an $84,000 settlement with a former aide using a personal loan. He has yet to do so.
Lawmakers have been under pressure to expose their colleagues that have paid settlements using taxpayer money.
It also addresses an issue at the heart of Meehan’s case: Members would not be allowed to pay settlements out of their office’s budget, known specifically as the Members’ Representational Allowance.
The presence of guests tied to the #MeToo movement, and the sartorial display of some Democratic lawmakers, will bring a renewed focus to the debate in the midst of one of the biggest ceremonial nights of the Presidency.
“The conversation about sexual harassment and assault in our nation is long overdue but through the efforts of Chessy and the #MeToo movement it is finally gaining steam,” said New Hampshire Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, who is bringing Chessy Prout, a young woman who was assaulted at a New Hampshire boarding school. “This is an issue that is deeply personal to me and I’m excited to host Chessy to signal that this national movement will continue to grow and succeed.”