Every Single Female Senator Just Called For A Vote On Sexual Harassment In Congress

“Inaction is unacceptable."

All 22 women in the Senate have sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanding a vote on legislation to reform how sexual harassment is handled in Congress.

The letter comes after the House of Representatives passed a package to update the way that sexual harassment is handled on Capitol Hill. Momentum had been building for legislation to be attached to the omnibus bill that was signed last week, but talks broke down when lawmakers couldn't agree on whether to include language that held members of Congress responsible for settlements tied to their behavior.

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"Inaction is unacceptable when a survey shows that four out of 10 women congressional staffers believe that sexual harassment is a problem on Capitol Hill," the letter reads, "And one out of six women in the same survey responded that they have been the survivors of sexual harassment."

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 6, 2014: Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Shutterstock / Christopher Halloran

Now, the legislation the House passed is simply waiting for Senate approval. Sen. Amy Klobuchar took the lead in getting all 22 female senators to sign onto the letter. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who drafted a bipartisan bill that would make it easier to report harassment, also rallied signatures.

At least a half dozen Congressman from both parties lost their jobs last year in the wake of sexual harassment claims. Those stories amped up the pressure for lawmakers to do something, and there were encouraging signs when the bitterly divided House managed to draft and pass its own legislation.

"The Senate's inaction stands in stark contrast to the bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives that led to the passage of bipartisan CAA reform legislation in February," the letter read. "The House bill includes a number of important provisions, such as eliminating waiting periods before a victim can take their case to court, increased transparency for awards and settlements, and a requirement that Members of the Senate and House pay for an award or settlement stemming from a case of sexual harassment or discrimination that they personally commit."

"In November, with your leadership, the Senate took an important first step in the effort to end harassment and discrimination in congressional workplaces with the passage of S. Res. 330, which requires anti-harassment and discrimination training for all Senators and staff at least once each Congress," the letter continued. "While this training requirement was a significant step to address workplace harassment, there was broad, bipartisan agreement at that time that more had to be done to support survivors."

Both Sen. McConnell and Sen. Schumer released statements saying they agreed the Senate needed to act, but it was unclear how or what they were doing to help push the legislation forward. 

NEW YORK - JUNE 27: Andrew Cuomo, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cristine Quinn attend the 2010 New York City Gay Pride March on the streets of Manhattan on June 27, 2010 in New York City Shutterstock / lev radin

The legislation Democrats hoped to include in the omnibus bill laid out requirements that lawmakers would cover the legal costs of harassment tied to their behavior, that way legal fees didn't fall into the laps of taxpayers or alleged victims.

"Sen. McConnell supports members being personally, financially liable for sexual misconduct in which they have engaged," his spokesperson David Popp told Politico in an email.

Sen. Gillibrand has been outspoken about sexual misconduct, even calling on President Donald Trump to resign over allegations of harassment assault by more than a dozen women. Through her career, Sen. Gillibrand fought for reforms in the military to address sexual assault and notably was one of the first Democratic lawmakers to call on Sen. Al Franken to resign when he was accused of sexual harassment. 

"#TimesUp Congress," Sen. Gillibrand tweeted. "Elected leaders should be held to the highest standards and no longer should taxpayers be on the hook for politicians' harassment scandals."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Gregory Reed

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