Trump transportation nominee comes under fire for sexual assault comments

Trump transportation nominee comes under fire for sexual assault comments
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President Trump’s nominee to lead research activities at the Department of Transportation (DOT) came under fire during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday for her past comments about sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) grilled Diana Furchtgott-Roth, the nominee to be assistant secretary of transportation for research and technology, over an article she wrote in 2015 saying that rape on college campuses was overreported. In the piece, Furchtgott-Roth also suggested that unwanted touching does not constitute sexual assault.

Blumenthal asked the nominee whether she still holds those beliefs. Furchtgott-Roth, an economist and senior research fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, defended the article, saying she was just pointing out that the Department of Justice has different statistics about sexual assault on campus than the statistics that are most commonly cited.

“It’s a tragedy when anyone is sexually assaulted, but Department of Justice data show 3 percent, rather than 25 percent, and that was the purpose of writing my article,” she said. “But it is definitely something that we need to be addressing. We need to be protecting young women on campus.”

When pressed by Blumenthal about whether she still believes that unwanted touching is not a form of sexual assault, she responded by patting another nominee on the back to demonstrate. 

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“For example … he might not want me to touch him, but that’s not the same as sexual assault,” she said.

Furchtgott-Roth later acknowledged that touching somebody’s private parts in an unwanted fashion, however, could be considered sexual assault, but said that it can be “difficult to draw the line.” 

“It doesn’t have anything to do with transportation research,” she added.

But Blumenthal argued that the issues are indeed relevant to the transportation sector.

Furchtgott-Roth, a former columnist and book author, has racked up a number of endorsements from the academic community, including from an economics professor at the George Washington University and a scholar at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

But the nominee faced scrutiny from Democrats over her past statements about sexual harassment in the workplace. Her confirmation hearing comes in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which has led an outpouring of women to publicly share their own sexual harassment and assault stories.

Furchtgott-Roth previously wrote that policies designed to curb sexual harassment may ultimately hurt relationships between men and women in the workplace, and has advised men in positions of authority to avoid solo interactions with women subordinates in order to avoid sexual harassment allegations. She has also suggested that there is no gender wage gap between men and women.

“These statements raise serious concerns about how you will respond, as the manager, to any sexual harassment charges among your employees,” said Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanNew Hampshire governor signs controversial voting bill Conway takes aim at congressional intern who yelled 'f--- you' at Trump Fox's Regan defends CNN's Acosta, calls for civility: 'What has happened to us?' MORE (D-N.H.).

Furchtgott-Roth promised to cultivate a workplace environment that is safe for all employees if she is confirmed.

“There is an office of civil rights within the department, and I would fully support the office of civil rights,” she said.

Furchtgott-Roth’s trove of past articles and columns touched on other subjects that were also concerning to lawmakers.

The nominee faced questions about an article she wrote in 2009 claiming that so-called Buy America rules would spark a trade war. 

But Furchtgott-Roth said Tuesday that she has since changed her mind on the subject and agreed to uphold federal requirements to buy American products and hire American employees — a policy strongly supported by Trump.

“What I wrote was not correct,” she told senators.