Buffeted by accusations of sexual harassment against members of Congress, and questions about secret legal settlements funded in the past by taxpayer dollars, the House approved a plan on Wednesday to strengthen harassment training in Congress, as key lawmakers said there should be ‘zero tolerance’ for such behavior, even as more stories were told about incidents that took place on the floor of the House.
“Bad behavior transcends party labels,” said Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), as she argued for more comprehensive harassment training on Capitol Hill.
“It is very hard to accept that people we admire in public life, and here in Congress, have crossed the line,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said no incidents of sexual harassment should be ignored.
“Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone,” Pelosi added.
The debate also included new details of female lawmakers being targeted by their male counterparts on the House floor.
“Working later in the evening,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said of an unnamed female lawmaker, “a member came up behind her, grinded up against her, and then stuck his tongue in her ear.”
Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA) told of how he was talking to a female lawmaker when an unnamed colleague walked by and grabbed her behind.
“And the Congressman walked by and groped her from behind,” Brady said. “And I reached over, and lucky for him, I just couldn’t grab him.”
Congressional leaders said it was time to end such incidents once and for all.
“Sexual harassment has no place in any work place, let alone in the United States Congress,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan.
The debate on the House floor came amid a swirl of stories about actions by members of Congress in both parties, such as Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who missed a second straight day of votes as he faced accusations of sexual misconduct involving former staffers.
“I will leave it up to him on what he decides to do,” Ryan said at a news conference, when asked if Conyers, who is the longest serving member of this Congress, should resign.
Key black lawmakers were privately urging Conyers to give up his seat, but in public they weren’t going that far.
Meanwhile, a week after a nude photo that he texted to a woman was released on line, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) faced more questions, after a woman released exchanges she had with the Texas Republican on Facebook, when he asked her what she was wearing.