Watch CBS News

House Lawmakers Describe Sexual Harassment In Congress At Hearing

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House lawmakers are meeting Tuesday to review the chamber's sexual harassment policies in the wake of sweeping allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment that have rocked powerful institutions and industries across the country.

The hearing by the House administration committee, which oversees the chamber's operations, is part of a review of how the House handles sexual harassment claims.

It comes amid growing calls for an overhaul of the way Congress handles allegations of sexual harassment, including a letter signed by more than 1,500 former Hill staffers who want to see reform for what they say are "inadequate" sexual harassment policies in Congress. A number of lawmakers have also come forward and shared stories of harassment they faced, either during their time as lawmakers or when they previously worked on Capitol Hill as aides.

California Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat who has gone public with her own allegations of sexual assault while she served as a Hill aide decades ago, testified before the panel Tuesday that two currently sitting members of Congress -- one Democrat, one Republican -- have "engaged in sexual harassment" but have not yet been reviewed.

Speier, who has proposed legislation that would change the House's policy and make sexual harassment training mandatory for members and their staff, also said she has heard stories of "victims having their private parts grabbed on the House floor."

Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican who previously served as a staffer on Capitol Hill, said it was "important that we name names."

During her opening statement, she told a gripping story of a young female aide who was asked to deliver materials to a male member of Congress. When the woman arrived at the member's residence, the member greeted her in a towel, Comstock said, and proceeded to expose himself.

After the incident, the woman quit her job. The lawmaker, whom Comstock did not name, remains in office.

There is currently no requirement for sexual harassment training in the House of Representatives, but individual offices may voluntarily have their staffs attend trainings offered by the Office of Compliance. The Senate just last week passed a resolution making sexual harassment training mandatory, not just for staffers and interns, but also for Senate lawmakers.

Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell support ramping up sexual harassment training, as does House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Earlier this month, Ryan called on House members and staffs to step up their sexual harassment training.

"I strongly encourage you to complete sexual harassment training and to mandate the training for your staff. We can and should lead by example," Ryan said in a letter to members and staff. "Our goal must be a culture where everyone who works in our offices feels safe and able to fulfill their duties."

Meanwhile, several Democrats are sponsoring legislation that would change the way sexual harassment complaints are handled.

Speier's proposed legislation would change the House's policy and make sexual harassment training mandatory for members and their staff.

She told CNN's "New Day" earlier Tuesday that current policy dictates that individuals coming forward with harassment complaints have to go through a three-month process.

"If someone wants to form a complaint they have to go through a month of legal counseling. ... Then they go through mediation. And then they have to go through a one-month 'cooling off' period, all the while they are still required to work in that office that was a hostile work environment," she said. "By the way ... the general counsel of the House is representing the harasser. The victim has no counsel, no support."

In the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, is proposing a bill that would streamline the reporting process in the Office of Compliance, the little-known office that handles such complaints.

™ & © 2017 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.