Q&A: Why is Congress so slow and secretive when policing members charged with sexual harassment?

Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

With a spate of sexual harassment allegations stirring trouble on Capitol Hill, Congress faces a new test of how well it can police itself.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, accused of demanding sex from women who worked for him, is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Some fellow Democrats have urged him to resign.

Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, another Democrat fighting to save his career, is bracing for a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry of groping allegations.

And GOP lawmakers have threatened to expel Republican Roy Moore of Alabama if he wins a Senate seat in a Dec. 12 special election. He stands accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old decades ago.

The raft of allegations of abusive conduct by powerful men in politics, business, news and entertainment -- President Donald Trump among them -- has put pressure on Congress to improve its system for punishing misconduct in its own ranks. The Senate passed a bipartisan resolution on Nov. 9 requiring sexual harassment training for all senators and staff by early January. On Wednesday, the House adopted a resolution that would require annual training for all employees.

The swift downfalls of NBC anchor Matt Lauer, comedian Louis C.K., actor Kevin Spacey and others in the private sector have highlighted the lumbering pace of the disciplinary process for Congress.


Revelations of secret payments of taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment complaints against Conyers and possibly other lawmakers have sparked calls for more transparency.

Conyers and Moore have denied wrongdoing. Franken has apologized for his behavior, but said he did not recall some of what he's accused of doing.

Q: What are these secret settlements?

A: Over the last two decades, the congressional Office of Compliance has approved $17 million in settlements and awards for workplace complaints, including sexual harassment cases. All told, 264 complaints have led to payouts.


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