Roy Blunt, feminist crusader? Maybe not, but in the last month, the Missouri Republican has been on the right side of two important woman- and family-friendly changes in the U.S. Senate.
First, as chairman of the Rules Committee, Blunt cleared the way for a vote allowing Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and any other lawmaker with a baby, to bring him or her onto the Senate floor for votes. As Duckworth said, that move helped “bring the Senate into the 21st Century.”
Some members had to be dragged into the current epoch. Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts initially said, “I don’t think it’s necessary” to let tiny humans onto the floor. He suggested that Duckworth could instead vote from the cloakroom, as he has done on occasion. She couldn’t, actually, since she lost both legs fighting in Iraq, and the cloakroom is not wheelchair accessible. In the end, even Roberts came around, and the vote was unanimous.
This week, Blunt and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, introduced legislation on harassment that passed in a voice vote on Thursday. It would finally make members of Congress pay harassment settlements out of their own pockets instead of handing the tab to taxpayers. This is such a no-brainer you’d think it would already have happened. The House passed an even stronger bill in February.
Blunt said the legislation “sends a clear message that harassment in any form will not be tolerated in the U.S. Congress.” The House would have to sign off on the Senate version before it could be signed into law, and several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, object to the Senate version. They point to a loophole in the bill’s requirement that the ethics committees must approve reimbursements for settlements involving members. They’re right that independent investigators should make that call, not colleagues.
The bill would, however, do away with the foot-dragging 30-day counseling period, 30-day mediation and 30-day “cooling off” periods required under 1995’s Congressional Accountability Act. It also would provide counsel not just to the accused, as is currently the case, but to the victim as well. And victims wouldn’t have to sign the nondisclosure agreements that have kept harassment hidden for so long. Under current law, those who report harassment have to continue to work for or with the alleged harasser while the claim is investigated. Under the Senate bill, they’d be able to work remotely, or if that’s not possible, take a paid leave.
The Senate bill unfortunately doesn’t give investigators the subpoena power that the House version does. And it’s wrong that only lawmakers, and not their aides, would have to pay their own settlements. “Non-members would still be covered by their employer, like every other employee in America,” Blunt said. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for staff transgressions, either, Senator. This Senate bill, which both Roberts and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill co-sponsored, does need some changes, but it’s a start.