Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) yesterday called on Capitol Police to escort nine female House members from a committee hearing after they tried to present him with a letter calling for hearings on a treaty promoting women's rights.
Helms opposes the 1979 United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and has refused to hold hearings on it, allow a vote or meet with House members who are pushing for ratification. The pact has been ratified by more than 160 countries, according to its backers.
"Now, you please be a lady," Helms told Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey (D-Calif.), leader of the group, before calling on police to escort them from the room, according to a transcript of the exchange.
Woolsey said the House members had been trying unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting with Helms for about three months and, after gathering more than 100 signatures on a letter urging hearings, went to Helms's office in the Dirksen Office Building to give him the letter.
Helms was not there, so they went to a nearby committee room where Helms was holding a hearing on another matter. The group, numbering about 20 including staffers, stood at the rear of the room, holding three large charts containing blow-ups of the letter and signatures, which they said they had originally intended to leave in Helms's office.
Helms pounded the gavel and said they were disrupting the hearing. "You're out of order. You cannot demonstrate in this hearing," he said. When Woolsey asked to meet with him on the treaty, Helms said, "You know, you're out of order, and I would not be discourteous to you where you work. Now, you please be a lady. . . . You are not going to be heard."
Helms spokesman Marc Thiessen said the House members were treated like any other demonstrators. "Senator Helms asked them to behave like ladies, but apparently they weren't willing to do so," he said. "If they want to be treated like members of Congress, they ought to behave like members of Congress. But if they're going to barge into a committee room and disrupt a hearing, they're going to be escorted out of the room by police like other protesters."
But Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), a member of the group, said, "I think it's very inappropriate for a member of the Senate to refuse a group of House members a discussion of what we regard as an important issue."
"It's appalling," added Woolsey.
CAPTION: Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey: Helms's refusal to meet was "appalling."
CAPTION: Rep. Nita M. Lowey: Senator's behavior was "inappropriate."