Leaders of the House Oversight Committee are discussing whether they should hold a hearing to examine the National Football League's handling of the Ray Rice assault case.
A public airing by the Oversight panel would significantly ramp up the scrutiny of how the NFL deals with cases of domestic abuse, even as women's rights groups are amplifying their calls for the resignation of league commissioner Roger Goodell.
Talk of the hearing came as Rice's former team, the Baltimore Ravens, prepared to take the field for a Thursday night game.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has requested a hearing from Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) into the NFL’s handling of the Rice case, on Thursday said both lawmakers had agreed to stage such a probe.
Yet there was immediate disagreement about that claim.
Issa spokeswoman Becca Watkins said no such agreement had been reached.
“Chairman Issa had separate conversations today with both Rep. Speier and Ranking Member Cummings about potential pathways for continuing the committee’s oversight of ongoing issues in the National Football League," Watkins said in an email. "Reports of a decision or agreement to hold a hearing are inaccurate.”
Cummings’s office initially said such a hearing is forthcoming, but later walked that back a bit, saying a hearing was discussed but not agreed upon.
Speier's office, however, said Issa had agreed to a hearing during a conversation with Speier Wednesday on the House floor.
Rice, a 27-year-old star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was promptly cut from the team Monday after the gossip website TMZ posted video footage of him punching then-fiance Janay Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator.
Palmer and Rice have married since the incident.
The NFL, which had suspended Rice for two games earlier in the year based on separate video footage taken outside the elevator, quickly heightened its punishment by extending that suspension indefinitely.
There are lingering questions, however, about whether the NFL had the more graphic footage from inside the elevator before it handed down the shorter suspension, leading to accusations that league officials had attempted to cover-up the most damning evidence to protect one of the NFL's stars.
The episode sparked an outcry from some members of Congress. At least one lawmaker, Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampOvernight Regulation: Senators call for 'cost-effective' regs | FCC chief unveils plans to roll back net neutrality Senators push 'cost-effective' reg reform Battle begins over Wall Street rules MORE (D-N.D.), has joined women's groups in suggesting Goodell should step down.
Ramping up the pressure, 16 female senators sent a letter Thursday urging Goodell to institute a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence in the league.
"We are deeply concerned that the NFL's new policy, announced last month, would allow a player to commit a violent act against a woman and return after a short suspension," they wrote. "If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn't get a second chance to play football in the NFL."
On Wednesday, the league announced it was backing an independent investigation into the incident that will be led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
But Speier said Thursday that Congress has a responsibility to conduct its own probe.
“The NFL’s failure to appropriately respond to crimes and misconduct has harmed the prestige of the game and the millions of Americans who look up to these players as role models," she said in a statement. "The NFL’s gross mishandling of the deplorable actions of Ray Rice is the latest example of how this insulated institution has incompetently dealt with serious issues."