10 Months After Weinstein, #MeToo Legislation Is Still Stalled in Congress
The House and Senate are pitted against each other in disagreements over legislation aimed at curbing sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill.
Legislation that would reform sexual misconduct proceedings on Capitol Hill is languishing in Congress, the result of ongoing tensions between the House and Senate that have stalled the bill for more than six months.
Members of Congress in the House say their counterparts in the Senate are reluctant to resolve the differences between their twin pieces of #MeToo legislation; Senators say they're doing their best to pass something both sides can agree on.
The House passed two sexual harassment bills in February, the first of which established a new office that would advocate for sexual misconduct victims in the Capitol. The second piece of legislation sought to make it mandatory for members of Congress accused of sexual misconduct to pay settlements out of their own pockets instead of from the congressional fund to which taxpayers currently contribute.
This latter measure has proven most contentious in the Senate, according to reports, especially among Republican men, who were holding up Senate negotiations over the chamber's own version of the #MeToo legislation.
Some senators “feel very strongly that we went too far in our bill, and they want a much weaker process,” Alabama Representative Bradley Byrne, a Republican, told Politico of the divide. “I don’t think that’s what the public expects of us.”
In the 10 months since the allegations against Harvey Weinstein triggered a nationwide movement, several legislators in both arms of Congress have stepped down following sexual misconduct accusations. The reckoning on Capitol Hill has most notably taken down Representative John Conyers, the longest-serving Democrat in the House, and Senator Al Franken, once thought to be a great advocate for women's rights.
In May, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took to the chamber floor to blast Senate leadership for its lack of action on legislation she considered urgent in light of the steady stream of allegations against sitting members of Congress.
"While practically every other industry in the country seems to be taking this issue far more seriously, and at least trying to make an effort to change their workplaces, Congress is dragging its feet," Gillibrand said at the time. "Once again, a problem is staring us right in the face and we're looking the other way."
Lawmakers have an opportunity on the horizon to create the political will to push the legislation through: Members of Congress could attach a #MeToo resolution to the end-of-the-year spending bill, which they must vote to pass by September 30 if they wish to avoid a third government shutdown this year.
Members of the House and Senate are "finding a way to pass it," Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has reassured. "I would hope very much that it would be done before the election, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be."