Sex Harassment Rocks Congress; Gov’t Shutdown Averted For Now; Gun Safety Fight to Continue
Posted to: Congress, DC News Junkie, Election 2018, Equality, Federal Budget, Health Care, Law Enforcement, Public Health, Public Safety, Transparency, White House
In a week that saw the #MeToo “Silence Breakers” recognized as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, three members of Congress announced their resignations after each had been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior in the past.
Most notably was Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who announced his decision to resign Thursday on the Senate floor.
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A former comedian turned politician, Franken was accused of unwanted kissing, groping and otherwise behaving inappropriately by multiple women. The revelations became too much for his Democratic colleagues, who on Wednesday came out in droves asking for him to step down.
Senator Chris Murphy was among the Democrats urging Franken to leave. His statement came late in the afternoon on Wednesday when the outcome appeared inevitable.
“The increasing number of women coming forward suggests a pattern of repeated harassment and unacceptable behavior that is impossible to ignore. Senator Franken has denied some of these allegations and has the right to continue to seek a process through the Ethics Committee, but I believe the best course of action for him right now is to step down, as I expect he will do tomorrow,” he said.
Senator Richard Blumenthal issued a statement after Franken’s speech.
“Senator Franken made the right decision. The conversation about sexual harassment and assault must continue vigorously, and so should meaningful action against it. We must continue to listen to the incredibly courageous women and men across the nation who have come forward. Sexual harassment and assault needs to be stopped wherever and whenever it occurs – it continues to be far too prevalent in every sphere of American life,” he said.
The Silence Breakers gave a voice to sexual assault and harassment survivors over social media with the #MeToo tagline fueling a national conversation over sexual misbehavior of the powerful.
As Time magazine wrote “women everywhere have begun to speak out about the inappropriate, abusive and in some cases illegal behavior they’ve faced. When multiple harassment claims bring down a charmer like former Today show host Matt Lauer, women who thought they had no recourse see a new, wide-open door.”
Michigan Representative John Conyers, the longest-serving African American in Congress who built a reputation as a champion for civil and human rights during 53 years in Congress, also stepped down this week.
It had been revealed a week earlier that a former staff woman in his office was paid to settle a sexual harassment complaint against him. More women followed accusing him of similar indiscretions.
And, Arizona Representative Trent Franks announced late Thursday that he was resigning amid a sexual harassment probe.
In a lengthy written statement, Franks said he and his wife have struggled with infertility, and that his “discussion of surrogacy” with the two women while in the workplace had “caused distress.”
The fallout is likely to continue. Two other House members have been accused of sexual misbehavior - Republican Blake Farenthold of Texas and Democrat Ruben Kihuen of Nevada. Both remain in office. And, there are rumors that CNN and the Washington Post are working on exposing at least 20 Congressional members for sexual harassment.
In his 11-minute floor address Franken would not admit to any specific misbehavior saying “Some of the allegations aren’t true. Others I remember differently.”
He also said there is some irony in his departure when President Donald Trump sits in the Oval Office after bragging on tape about his history of sexual assault and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore enjoys the full support of the Republican Party despite being accused of repeatedly preying on young girls.
Casey Aden-Wansbury, a former chief of staff for Franken who once served as Senator Joe Lieberman’s communications director, praised Franken in a post on Facebook saying she had never seen anyone take public service more seriously than him: “Al Franken has been a great Senator, a great boss and a great friend.”
Congress OKs Temporary Measure to Avert Gov’t Shutdown
Facing a Friday deadline to act, Congress approved a resolution to keep the federal government funded for another two weeks so that they can continue to negotiate a final spending bill for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year.
The two-week extension easily cleared the Senate but drew substantial opposition in the House from Democrats protesting the priorities of the Republican majority.
Representative Rosa DeLauro spoke on the floor on Thursday urging her colleagues to vote against the measure as a signal of displeasure to Republican leaders over their efforts in 2017 to repeal the Affordable Care Act and provide tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy rather than approve a bipartisan budget.
“For the first nine months of this year, this Congress attempted again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have raised premiums and deductibles, thrown millions off insurance, and made care unaffordable. Then, we spent our entire fall on the Republican tax scam,” DeLauro said. “Now, we are punting one of our core obligations as a Congress: funding our government programs. This is unacceptable — it’s a disturbing pattern and it’s unsustainable.”
DeLauro and Representatives John Larson, Jim Himes, Elizabeth Esty, and Joe Courtney voted against the resolution which was approved 235-193. It passed the Senate, 81-14. Murphy and Blumenthal voted for it but issued statements criticizing the Republicans.
“Republicans have spent so much time forcing through their deficit busting tax cut for the rich that they have neglected doing the basic work of governing — making sure our government is funded. I supported this two week funding bill so that negotiators can keep working on a broader agreement, but this is no way to run a country,” Murphy said.
“I reluctantly voted to approve a short-term Continuing Resolution today only to avert the unnecessary, self-inflicted crisis of a government shutdown,” Blumenthal said. “Republicans’ failure to put forward a long-term funding measure is a masterclass in failed leadership.”
CT Delegation Vows to Continue Gun Safety Fight
After House Republicans pushed through legislation to make it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines, members of the Connecticut delegation renewed their calls for stricter regulation of guns as a way to address mass shootings.
The Democrats gathered Thursday morning with gun safety advocates and survivors of gun violence who were in D.C. to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that took the lives of 20 children and six educators.
“This is a long term fight that ultimately will not be able to be resisted by this place,” said Senator Chris Murphy.
The House on Wednesday approved a bill to allow gun owners with a state-issued concealed-carry permit to carry a handgun in any state that allows concealed weapons. The reciprocity issue is a top priority of the National Rifle Association and was the first gun legislation taken up since mass shootings in Nevada and Texas killed more than 80 people this year.
Connecticut’s House delegation voted against the measure and criticized Republicans for including a bipartisan effort to improve a national database used for background checks, which came into question after the Texas shooting. Murphy has co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill with Texas Republican John Cornyn.
On Thursday, Defense Department’s Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine acknowledged to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Air Force had inexcusably failed to report the criminal history of the gunman who slaughtered more than two dozen people at a rural Texas church.
The shooter should have had his name and domestic violence conviction submitted to the National Criminal Information Center database. The Air Force has discovered several dozen other such reporting omissions since the Nov. 5 shooting.
“I am struck by the failure of the Department of Defense to comply with the law, year after year,” Blumenthal said at the hearing.
Blumenthal suggested that the military should take “stern and strict” disciplinary action for failure to adequately report convictions to the NCIC database.
At the Thursday “call to action,” Esty angrily denounced Republicans for having the “gall” to combine the background check bill with the NRA effort to broaden concealed carry.
“Responsible gun owners need to join us. They need to help. They cannot afford to let the gun lobbyists govern,” she said.
Representative John Larson urged the public to demand Republicans hold a separate vote on the bill that would strengthen the NCIC database system.
“Tell them if they won’t vote you will in November,” Larson said. “There is an opportunity to reset the entire nation next November.”
Jim Himes thanked the survivors of gun violence for turning their grief into action.
“Each sentiment you have expressed — each kernel of pain you feel — converts itself into energy that goes straight to our hearts,” he said. “None of the tragedy is wasted and in the end we will prevail.”
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