Congress has had its own #MeToo moments as a number of employees have gone public about sexual harassment by members of Congress.
After Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) shared her story of experiencing unwanted sexual advances in Congress, she launched a #MeTooCongress campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault on Capitol Hill.
The Congressional Accountability Act requires alleged victims to undergo counseling, mediation and a month-long “cooling off” period before filing a lawsuit against their harassers, a system that has been widely criticized by the #MeToo movement.
Women in Congress sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) saying:
“The time has come to rewrite the CAA to provide a more equitable process that supports survivors of harassment and discrimination.
“Inaction is unacceptable when a survey shows that four out of 10 women congressional staffers believe that sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill and one out of six women in the same survey responded that they have been the survivors of sexual harassment. … No longer can we allow the perpetrators of these crimes to hide behind a 23-year-old law.”
Multiple industries — including journalism and entertainment — have had their public #MeToo movements. But while at least seven members of Congress have either resigned or said they would not seek reelection in recent months, Capitol Hill hasn't led the country to the truly transformative shift in this area that some might desire from national leaders.
One of the reasons might be because Congress is controlled by the party that includes President Trump, who himself faces about a dozen allegations of sexual assault. Taking a tougher stance on sexual assault could open conservative lawmakers to being asked to address the issue within their own political tribe. That move could hurt Trump, who has a 41 percent approval rating, and could even prove damaging to conservative lawmakers who are up for reelection in the fall.
According to the January Post-ABC News poll, a third of women nationally said the efforts against sexual harassment issues in the workplace have not gone far enough. This is an important number to pay attention to for all lawmakers seeking reelection. But it is especially notable to Republicans, given that the party continues to struggle with female voters.
In addition to Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel sharing with White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly that the GOP has a problem with women, the president's approval ratings among women — including those from demographics that supported him in 2016 — is dropping.
McConnell and Ryan have yet to respond to their colleagues. If the past is any indicator of the future, the women demanding respect on Capitol Hill and beyond are not going to stop asking questions — and neither will the women, and the men who support them, across America.