A push to change Capitol Hill’s system for reporting and adjudicating complaints of sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement hit a roadblock Monday after Republicans refused to include the policy language in the latest draft of a major spending bill.
Three Democratic congressional aides familiar with the process said the language was unlikely to be included in the final version of the omnibus measure, which is expected to be released Monday night. The draft bill is subject to change, and it is possible the two parties will come to an agreement, though some aides were pessimistic.
Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said the bill’s contents were still being debated.
Congress is under pressure to approve the spending bill this week to avert a government shutdown at midnight Friday. After months of debate, the legislation is considered a convenient vehicle for lawmakers to change Capitol Hill’s process for filing and settling workplace complaints amid a national reckoning over misconduct by employers.
The House addressed criticisms of the system in February, voting without opposition to establish an office to advocate for employees during that process and require lawmakers to reimburse taxpayers when they are involved in workplace settlements. The bills also prohibited sexual relationships between lawmakers and their employees, canceled the requirement that accusers undergo counseling and mediation, and loosened confidentiality rules governing the complaint process.
The House passed its legislation by voice vote under suspension of the rules, a method for fast-tracking noncontroversial bills.
The Senate has yet to vote on those proposals, which were expected to be included in the omnibus bill. On Monday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) responded to claims that Republican leaders excised the policy language during final negotiations, which they denied.
“I am appalled that House and Senate leadership removed provisions from the omnibus bill at the last minute that would have finally brought accountability and transparency to Congress’s sexual harassment reporting process,” Gillibrand said in a written statement. “It begs the question: Who are they trying to protect?”
Gillibrand is responsible for a separate bill, the Congressional Harassment Reform Act, that included several of the proposed changes. She demanded Senate leaders hold a vote on her legislation “immediately.”
“I can’t think of any legitimate reason to remove this language other than to protect members of Congress over taxpayers and congressional employees,” she stated. “Nothing about this should be controversial at this point; the Congressional Harassment Reform Act has broad bipartisan support in the Senate and these provisions already passed the House unanimously.”
Ferrier said Gillibrand’s language had never been “adopted to the legislation and/or stripped.”
“The government funding bill is still being developed, so I don’t have any update on the final bill,” Ferrier said in an email.