WASHINGTON — Two US lawmakers on Tuesday stood accused of sexual harassment, including one who allegedly exposed himself to a young staffer, amid mounting concern over abuse on Capitol Hill.
With a broadening national spotlight on sexual misconduct in Hollywood, the media and politics, Congress has begun to address the accusations of abuse and demands by more than 1,500 former staffers that comprehensive reforms be instituted.
The claims also come as conservative former judge Roy Moore, a candidate for US Senate, faces startling accusations by five women claiming he sexually assaulted or pursued them when they were teenagers in Alabama.
House Democrat Jackie Speier, an advocate for an improved anti-harassment system in Congress, said she was aware of two sitting congressmen, a Republican and a Democrat, who “have engaged in sexual harassment.”
“I have had numerous meetings and phone calls with staff members, both present and former, women and men, who have been subjected to this inexcusable and often times illegal behavior,” she told the House Administration Committee.
She painted a picture of sexual predation on Capitol Hill, which included “victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor.”
Her colleague, House Republican Barbara Comstock, told the panel of a young staffer who delivered documents to her lawmaker boss’s residence and was greeted by the congressman, who was wearing only a towel.
“At that point, he decided to expose himself. She left, and then she quit her job,” Comstock said.
“But that kind of situation — what are we doing here for women right now who are dealing with somebody like that?”
As for Moore, he has denied the allegations against him, but his support among mainstream Republicans has plummeted one month before the December 12 special election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have now called on him to drop out of the race, while the editorial board of the Alabama Media Group branded him “grossly unfit for office.”
The House hearing addressed the need to update the chamber’s policies on misconduct claims, and bipartisan calls to implement mandatory sexual harassment training for both lawmakers and staff.
“There is no place for sexual harassment in our society, period. And especially in Congress,” said the panel’s chairman, Gregg Harper.
Speier herself acknowledged last month that she was the victim of abuse when she worked as a congressional staffer decades ago.
“Many of us in Congress know what it’s like, because Congress has been a breeding ground for a hostile work environment for far too long,” she said in an October video encouraging other staffers to tell their stories.
Addressing the issue will be complex and “at times uncomfortable,” Speier said, as she applauded colleagues from both parties for supporting efforts to mandate sexual harassment training.