Congress grapples with sexual harassment as it votes to require workplace training

The rule passed Wednesday as Rep. John Conyers faced calls to resign.

ByABC News
November 29, 2017, 5:58 PM

— -- Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to grapple with the issue of sexual assault in Congress as pressure mounts on Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to resign over multiple sexual harassment allegations.

The House passed an amendment to its own rules to require workplace harassment training for members and staff in each session of Congress, a move congressional leaders described as a first step.

"Sexual harassment has no place in any workplace, let alone in the United States Congress," Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said at a news conference Wednesday.

As of Wednesday morning, three House Democrats have publicly called on Conyers to resign: Reps. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Sources tell ABC News that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus are working behind the scenes to encourage Conyers, who returned to Detroit last night, to retire.

Rice, the first to call for Conyers’ resignation, left the House Democratic caucus meeting early this morning out of frustration with the lack of discussion of Conyers.

“Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room and that's why I was done with the meeting," she told reporters. "I don't have time for conversations that are not real, that are not going to advance the ball for all of us here in Washington."

Rice further sent a letter to Ryan asking him to work to free Conyers’ accuser from her non-disclosure agreement.

A Democratic aide said the group discussed sexual harassment and reforms needed, and that several members spoke about the subject in the meeting Rice left early.

“There was not enough discussion in there, we need to have more discussion,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., who is married to former Rep. John Dingell — Congress' longest-serving representative — and has been around Capitol Hill for decades.

“I know what it's like to be a woman who is sexually harassed and to be threatened with losing her job," Dingell said. "For too many women that's still a reality."

She added that constituents were sharing their own stories about workplace sexual assault with her over the Thanksgiving holiday, and warned colleagues to take the issue seriously on Capitol Hill.

“Anybody who was home last week and doesn't understand that the time for change right now is real isn't going to be reelected,” she said.

Ryan said Conyers' decision to resign is "up to him," saying he and members of Congress do not have a different standard of behavior than figures in the media of Hollywood accused of sexual harassment.

"I know what I would do if this happened to me," Ryan said. "I will leave it up to him to decide what he wants to do I think he made the right decision in stepping down from his leadership position."

The House Administration Committee is planning to hold a hearing next week reviewing settlement payments and the Congressional Accountability Act governing workplace harassment procedures and reporting in Congress.

Chairman Gregg Harper, R-Miss., told reporters he is working to find out how much taxpayer money has been spent settling sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill.

The congressional Office of Compliance has said the government has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money in workplace settlements since 1997, but has not said how much of that money has been spent settling sexual harassment claims.