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US House OKs anti-harassment training

Susan Walsh | AP
Susan Walsh | AP
A flag flies on at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. The House is scheduled to vote on adopting mandatory anti-sexual harassment training for all members and their staff. The vote comes amid a wave of allegations of sexual misconduct against lawmakers that has thrust the issue of gender hostility and discrimination on Capitol Hill squarely into the spotlight.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House easily approved a bipartisan measure Wednesday requiring lawmakers and aides to take annual anti-harassment training as lawmakers faced heavy pressure to address burgeoning sexual misconduct allegations against members of Congress.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican who represents Maine’s 2nd District, co-sponsored the measure.

“There should be zero tolerance for this kind of behavior,” he said Wednesday in a floor speech.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, also co-sponsored the resolution. She applauded the move but said it does not go far enough.

“Making this training mandatory is an important first step in changing the culture of Congress, but we must also urgently reform the Office of Compliance so that accountability, transparency, and safety are upheld for every single person who works here,” she said in a statement after the vote. “I urge Speaker [Paul] Ryan to bring the bipartisan Me Too bill to the floor so we can begin reform a system that has for too long shielded the powerful from consequences.”

Passage, by voice vote, came as Congress battled over Republican tax cuts and a potential government shutdown, even as lawmakers were forced to address accusations against some of their own. They included liberal heroes Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken and far-right GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama.

With Conyers being pressed to resign from Congress by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others, Pelosi seemed to suggest it was time for the long-serving liberal icon to step down.

“No matter how great the legacy, it is not a license to harass and abuse,” Pelosi, D-California, said without mentioning the 88-year-old Michigan Democrat’s name. She said Congress should have zero tolerance for abuse, “no matter your contribution to our country.”

Earlier, Ryan said there should be no room for sexual harassment “in any workplace, let alone in the United States Congress.” Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told reporters that having a hostile environment on Capitol Hill is “a disgrace” and added, “We will not tolerate that kind of behavior.”

Despite the unanimity in addressing the problem, there was discord as one Democrat complained that leaders weren’t being aggressive enough.

Conyers surrendered his post as the House Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat after a report that he’d quietly settled a complaint by a former aide who said he’d harassed her, but at least three of his colleagues have said he should quit the House. Conyers has denied the charges.

One critic, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-New York, said she left a meeting of House Democrats early because the harassment issue wasn’t being taken seriously enough. She cited recent firings of media figures by their companies and told reporters, “We don’t do the same, and I think it’s a disgrace.”

Top Democrats disputed that, and one senior aide said eight lawmakers discussed the issue at Wednesday’s closed-door meeting.

Ryan told reporters that Conyers had “made the right decision” by leaving his Judiciary post. Conyers has returned to Detroit.

But the speaker sidestepped a question on whether lawmakers should more vocally address some women’s claims that they were sexually harassed by Donald Trump before he became president. Trump has denied the allegations.

“Right now we’re focused on making sure this place works the right way,” Ryan said.

Lawmakers say the House anti-harassment training measure, similar to a plan the Senate already approved, is merely a first step. They are considering legislation that would strengthen Congress’ lax and lengthy procedures for workers who want to lodge complaints. That includes the little-known practice in which lawmakers settle complaints with federally financed settlements for which recipients must promise to not publicly discuss the allegations.

Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia, a sponsor of Wednesday’s House resolution, said in a brief interview that lawmakers are considering ending taxpayer-funded settlements, giving victims of alleged harassment more rights and requiring more information about complaints to be publicly released.

AP reporters Alan Fram, Juliet Linderman and Kevin Freking contributed.

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