Congress’s Sexual Harassment Scandal Is About to Get Even Worse
When Minnesota Senator Al Franken announced on Thursday that he would resign, he made it clear that he did not believe he had besmirched one of the nation’s fundamental organs of government. “I know in my heart, nothing that I have done as a senator—nothing—has brought dishonor on this institution, and I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree,” he said on the Senate floor, adding that “some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” and others happened “very differently” than they were described to the press. Nevertheless, he stepped aside, becoming the second congressperson to do so in the wake of sexual harassment allegations that week. And it now appears that his resignation is only the tip of a gargantuan iceberg: according to several media reporters, CNN and The Washington Post have dozens of stories in the works to expose at least 20 lawmakers, and potentially as many as 40—over 1 in 10 male members of congress, all told.
Even without the reports in the works, the past two weeks have seen the Weinstein effect rip through Congress, ousting lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Texas Republican Joe Barton announced his retirement last week over allegations of inappropriate sexting, though in his resignation statement he denied abusing his power and sexually harassing women. On Tuesday, longtime Democratic Rep. John Conyers, whom multiple former staffers have accused of sexual harassment, conceded to mounting calls for his resignation (but continued to deny wrongdoing). Just hours after Franken’s speech, Republican Congressman Trent Franks announced that he would resign under threat of an ethics probe for allegedly sexually harassing women in his office; in a subsequent statement, Franks claimed that he had asked two of his female employees whether they would serve as surrogates. (Observers speculated that there was more to the story, noting that the allegations were serious enough for Speaker Paul Ryan to ask for Franks’s immediate resignation before a probe could be carried out.)
Meanwhile Texas Republican Blake Farenthold, faces a similar probe after potential new evidence surfaced about his $84,000 taxpayer-funded settlement with Lauren Greene, a former aide who said Farenthold sexually harassed her—“The Committee on Ethics does not appear to be letting it lie with the Office of Congressional Ethics’ recommendation not to pursue further,” Greene’s attorney told Politico. (In a separate statement, Farenthold neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, citing the Congressional Accountability Act.) Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen is similarly holding on following claims that he sexually harassed a campaign staffer during the 2016 election, despite House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calling for his resignation. “This is not about politics,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. “That’s the last thing this is about.” (Kihuen has previously denied the allegations.)
Given that Congress’s Office of Compliance—the only recourse staffers have to report abuse—is all but explicitly designed to protect lawmakers, a reckoning over sexual harassment on Capitol Hill is long overdue. Democrats, unlike Republicans, are mostly cheering the sea change, even as some wonder whether Franken’s resignation may have set a harsh new precedent. “This does establish a new standard for this body,” Senator Tim Kaine told reporters on Thursday. “And that standard is: behavior before you were elected is fair game for determining whether you should be here.” He added, “If that’s the standard, we have to be committed to trying to apply that in an evenhanded way.”
Of course, the odds of Kaine’s “evenhanded” standard being applied evenly are approximately zero. Like almost everything else in this era of hyper-partisanship, the political punishment is likely to depend on the party of the accused. Franken stepped down under pressure from Democrats hoping to seize the moral high ground in the upcoming Alabama Senate election, where voters remain torn between alleged ephebophile Roy Moore, and Democrat Doug Jones. If Democrats have Franken for a model, Republicans have Moore and Donald Trump, both of whom have refused to acknowledge allegations against them, setting their own precedent that’s straight out of the Access Hollywood playbook. The White House line where Trump is concerned—apology equals guilt, denial equals innocence—is enough to sway loyalists, but it may not be sufficient to convince independents and women, the latter of whom are largely responsible for the president’s nose dive in the polls. Similarly, Moore’s strategy of defiance may work in Alabama—a recent poll showed that 6 in 10 white women say they’ll vote for the former judge—but in less partisan states, it could prove politically poisonous.
via Vanity Fair http://bit.ly/2xvuIXg
December 8, 2017 at 09:03AM