Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) spoke Tuesday at Politico’s “Women Rule” summit about the problem of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill and the convoluted system victims must go through to report misconduct. Speier also reacted to the news of Rep. John Conyers’s (D-MI) retirement in light of multiple sexual harassment allegations and a settlement calling it “not good enough” and emphasizing “that’s a serial harasser.”
“I was anticipating that he was going to be resigning and that’s what’s should happen,” Speier said after being informed of the news live on stage. “It’s not good enough to say ‘in a year and a half or in a year I’m going to retire,’ that’s a serial harasser.”
It was clarified immediately after that Conyers, while characterizing his decision to leave office as “retiring,” will be stepping down effective immediately.
“What is he doing?” Speier asked, given the extremely subtle distinction between an immediate retirement and a resignation.
Speier had harsh words for the current recourse available to victims of harassment in Congress, describing the convoluted process that is currently in place.
“In Congress it is a system that has basically been there to protect the harasser and the victims have been without resources,” she said, “for example, the office of compliance to which a victim would report would have to first go through 30 days of legal counseling then 30 days of mandatory mediation and then signing a non-disclosure agreement and then 30 days of a cooling off period all the while still working in that harassing environment.”
She touted her bipartisan “Me Too Congress Act” as legislation that would address these problems.
Speier said the current system “doesn’t create accountability, there’s a secret fund, the members are never identified, and the result is habitual harassers are allowed to continue to operate and we are seeing it right now.”
When questioned about tribalism on the Hill affecting the issue, Speier said she believes it makes calling out harassers more difficult.
"That’s why as we are contemplating a new system I think we need to look at creating a third party function that will be outside of Congress not populated by members of Congress so this issue of this uncomfortableness that is associated with calling out a member of your same party is not there,” she said.
“You know the institution is special,” she reminded those gathered, “but members of Congress aren’t special and we need to be treated like everybody else.”