© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wave Of Sexual Harassment Allegations Hit Capitol Hill


The allegations of sexual harassment against talk show host Charlie Rose that came out yesterday overshadowed another allegation. Prominent New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush was suspended after several women accused him.


And that in turn overshadowed yet another allegation. A member of Congress, Diana DeGette, told a story from years ago describing her experience with another lawmaker.


DIANA DEGETTE: I was in an elevator and then-Congressman Bob Filner tried to pin me to the door of the elevator and kiss me. And I pushed him away.

INSKEEP: Congressman Filner was later elected mayor of San Diego and had to resign that job amid allegations of sexual harassment.

Tamara Keith covers the White House and hosts NPR's Politics podcast. She is here to talk about how the wave of allegations has hit Washington.

Hi, Tam.


INSKEEP: OK. Are people in Congress beginning to ask how far this could go through that institution?

KEITH: Well, at a recent hearing, Jackie Speier, who's a Democratic congresswoman from California, said that there are at least two current members of Congress who have engaged in sexual harassment. But it wasn't clear whether those claims have even been reviewed or whether those claims have come to light. So basically, there is this sense, this very palpable feeling in Washington that this is not the end, that - and we don't even know if this is the beginning or the middle but that there is a very serious reckoning under way.

INSKEEP: And let's talk about the cases that are known. We mentioned the Filner case. Then there's Al Franken who acknowledged - who apologized for one instance and now has a new allegation against him.

KEITH: Yeah, that's right. Yesterday, CNN reported that a woman named Lindsay Menz who took a photo with him at the Minnesota State Fair that while that photo was being taken, Franken grabbed her butt. This is sort of an ongoing story. We don't know where this ends. Franken and many in the Senate, including Republicans and Democrats, have said that there should be a Senate ethics investigation, Ethics Committee investigation. Meanwhile, Senate staffers, former staffers of his, as well as some women who worked on "Saturday Night Live," have put out statements of support. But this is - there are also people on the left who are starting to say well, maybe Senator Franken should think about resigning.

INSKEEP: You're saying that some women are saying he was great to work with, but now that these two allegations - and then what is the allegation against Congressman John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan?

KEITH: Yeah. So last night, BuzzFeed reported that Democrat John Conyers settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged that she was fired because she would not succumb to his sexual advances. The article also describes Conyers making repeated, unwanted sexual advances to female staffers.

INSKEEP: And people broadly did not know this because it was a private settlement?

KEITH: Right. And that's what has been happening. Very much of what has happened in Congress has happened very quietly with private settlements. The BuzzFeed article has documents that show that this staffer who left was brought back on as a temporary employee. She didn't actually come back to work, but her settlement was paid out through payroll so it wouldn't show up.

MARTIN: So, Tam, these allegations are moving through Congress and other institutions, the media, obviously, while President Donald Trump sits in the White House - a man, a candidate who was recorded as saying if you're famous, you can kiss women, you can grab them, they just let you. More than a dozen women made a whole lot of allegations against him, against Donald Trump. Do you think his election is provoking the broader public outrage over sexual harassment that we're seeing?

KEITH: Rachel, that is a very big question and one that I don't think any of us can truly answer. But I think that there is clearly a moment that is happening in our culture. You know, when Bill Clinton ran for president, he was accused of various things with women, and the default was to question the women, that - you know, his aides very openly denigrated the women who accused him. The default setting seems to have changed. When you have someone like Mitch McConnell saying I believe the women in reference to Senate candidate - Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, there has been a shift - the #MeToo movement and hashtag. That - there is something that has changed. And it's not clear whether President Trump got in under the wire or whether at some point this all just fades out. You know, there was a senator, Bob Packwood, in 1995 who was forced to resign from the Senate amid...


KEITH: ...Sexual harassment. And I talked to a female senator who said, I thought this would end there. And it didn't.

MARTIN: Clearly not.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith. Tamara, thanks for the update. I really appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.