Senator Marco Rubio said Monday he supports various efforts to overhaul the process of reporting and investigating allegations of sexual misconduct in Congress, two days after the Florida Republican fired his top staffer for what he said was evidence of inappropriate behavior with subordinates.
The U.S. Senate is likely to receive legislation from the House of Representatives this week that would mandate sexual harassment training for everyone who works in Congress along with changing the reporting process for victims and investigations conducted on Capitol Hill.
While some of his Senate Republican colleagues have said legislation isn’t necessary to force change and merely changing Senate rules would suffice, Rubio said he would support any effort that swiftly addresses wrongdoing while protecting victims.
“Senator Rubio would support any measure that requires senators to deal with harassment the way he has — swiftly, decisively and protective of the victims’ wishes to not be publicly identified,” Rubio spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said in a statement.
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Perez-Cubas was referring to Rubio’s actions when informed of former chief of staff Clint Reed’s alleged misconduct.
According to a statement issued by Rubio’s office, the senator was made aware of allegations about Reed on Friday afternoon. After investigating the allegations with his general counsel, Rubio traveled from Florida to Washington on Saturday evening and fired Reed.
Rubio didn’t cosponsor a recent bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that won the support of various Democrats and Republicans, though the statement from his office indicates he would vote in favor of legislation if it reaches the Senate floor. A bill sponsored by Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., is likely to pass the House of Representatives this week and the Senate can begin consideration of the proposal. Harper’s bill would update the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act and require the legislative branch to comply with workplace laws related to sexual harassment that are currently enforced in the private sector.
“The CAA Reform Act brings more transparency, accountability, and stronger protections for employees,” Harper said in a statement. “It institutes a respectful, more streamlined process for individuals to report claims and reach a resolution. Ultimately, these reforms will strengthen protections for individuals and needed accountability in the workplace.”
Currently, sexual harassment victims in Congress have 180 days to bring a claim to the U.S. Congress Office of Compliance, the office responsible for handling workplace complaints.
Any potential victims of Reed’s behavior in Rubio’s office would be able to bring a claim to the Office of Compliance even though Reed was fired if they file a request for counseling within 180 days of a violation, a spokeswoman for the office confirmed on Monday.
“Nothing changes in the reporting and referral process if the subject of a complaint no longer works in the legislative branch,” Office of Compliance spokeswoman Laura Cech said in an email.
A potential victim must complete up to 30 days of mandatory counseling with a further 15 days to decide whether to bring their claims to mediation. If they don’t want mediation, they’re out of options.
If victims do opt for mediation, then a taxpayer-funded lawyer who represents the congressional office gets involved. If no settlement is reached, there’s a 30-day cooling-off period before a victim can file a lawsuit or request an official hearing. If a settlement is reached, it is usually paid for with taxpayer money and accomplished with a nondisclosure agreement, meaning the general public won’t know what happened.
The Senate passed a resolution in November that requires lawmakers, staffers and interns to complete mandatory sexual harassment training, though a resolution is different than legislation and is narrowly tailored to employees in the upper chamber instead of the entire legislative branch.
A New York Times report detailing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s years of sexual misconduct in October has morphed into a national conversation on sexual misconduct that has ended the political careers of prominent figures like Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken and Republican National Committee finance chairman Steve Wynn.