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Collins says sexual harassment claims against Trump ‘remain very disturbing’

Yuri Gripas | Reuters
Yuri Gripas | Reuters
U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) talks to reporters as she arrives for a Senate healthcare vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S.on July 27, 2017.

WASHINGTON — Maine Sen. Susan Collins went further Sunday than most of her Republican colleagues in expressing worry about the sexual assault allegations against President Donald Trump, saying they were one of the reasons she did not vote for him.

“Those allegations remain very disturbing,” Collins said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” She added that she did not support Trump in the 2016 campaign in part because of news reports about women accusing him of unwanted touching or kissing. Trump has denied those allegations, which include 12 women detailing incidents that occurred over many years.

With allegations emerging against officials from both political parties, few are like Collins — willing to discuss harassment within their own party’s ranks.

Some of the concern involves sexual harassment claims against current and prospective members of Congress, leading to reconsideration of how such allegations are handled on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who has been outspoken in condemning the harassment reporting process in Congress, told CBS’ John Dickerson on Sunday that the nation is experiencing a “huge cultural shift” when it comes to addressing sexual harassment.

If Trump were running today, she said, “I bet he would not be elected.”

But when asked how this changed standard might apply to former Democratic President Bill Clinton, Speier was less candid. She said that Clinton’s accusers “were not treated as they should have been,” but did not go so far as to criticize Clinton.

Days earlier, fellow Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told The New York Times that Clinton should have resigned during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Few other members of her party have taken that position.

Similarly, Republicans have dodged questions about the accusations against Trump.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said voters had made their judgment about the president.

“Whatever they had to say, people heard that, and they elected President Trump president of the United States,” he said.

Within Congress, many female members say sexual harassment is pervasive. Speier and others have described unnamed male members exposing themselves to staff members and groping women on the House floor. During a hearing Tuesday, Speier said she knows two members of Congress — Democrat and Republican — who have sexually harassed women but have not been subject to review.

Just one accuser has named names: Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden said Thursday that Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., forcibly kissed and groped her a decade ago, before he was elected. Franken apologized and said that he would “gladly cooperate” with an investigation by the Senate’s Ethics Committee.

That same day, Trump took to Twitter to condemn the Democratic senator.

That put White House officials in the awkward position of explaining why Trump quickly addressed the claim against Franken but not the allegations against Roy Moore, Alabama’s Republican candidate for Senate. Nine women have accused Moore of a range of inappropriate conduct, including pursuing them when they were teenagers, groping, and assault. The White House has not joined Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in calling for Moore to step down.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell Sunday that the president criticized Franken because the senator admitted wrongdoing. Moore has denied the allegations against him.

“Do you believe that the women who have come out against Roy Moore are credible?” Mitchell asked.

“I believe they’re credible. I don’t know who to believe,” Mulvaney said.

“But if they’re credible, why wouldn’t you believe them?” Mitchell pressed him.

They went back and forth for several minutes. Eventually Mulvaney said, “Folks who vote in the Alabama election can ultimately decide.”

As for Franken, his behavior garnered widespread condemnation in Congress, but so far, no calls to immediately resign. Several members said Sunday they thought an ethics investigation was the right way to handle the case.

Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., who was among the first women in the House to call for Moore to step aside, went furthest. On Sunday, she told Mitchell that she still hopes Moore “will do that and do the right thing. … For that matter, Al Franken can go hit the door with him.”

Although the Senate has authority to kick out members, that hasn’t happened since the Civil War.

But Speier and others say that the procedures for handling misconduct in Congress are in desperate need of an overhaul.

On Sunday, Speier called the congressional Office of Compliance “an enabler” when it comes to sexual harassment. Settlement payments in cases of workplace violations come out of a special U.S. Treasury fund — rather than from the accused member’s office.

“We have a system in place that allows for the harasser to go unchecked,” she said on “Face the Nation.”

On “Meet the Press,” Blunt also criticized the system as “totally inappropriate,” pointing out the rules require congressional employees to go through months of counseling and a mediation process before filing a sexual harassment complaint.

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill requiring members and staff to undergo training to prevent sexual misconduct.

“There wasn’t even the kind of training — training is the wrong word for it — exposure to what sexual harassment is that is required in the federal sector and the private sector,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democratic congressional delegate representing the District of Columbia, told Stephanopoulos. “I am convinced that many women even may not understand what some unwelcome advances are. And that they don’t have to welcome them, or they can turn them away.”


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