Ryan calls sexual harassment ‘a disgrace’

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming Senate heads toward floor fight on criminal justice bill MORE (R-Wis.) on Wednesday called sexual harassment a “disgrace” that will not be tolerated in the halls of Congress, but he sidestepped a question about the 16 women who accused President Trump of inappropriate behavior during the campaign.

“Sexual harassment has no place in any workplace, let alone in the United States Congress,” Ryan told reporters at a news conference. “The fact that some people walking these halls are subjected to a hostile or threatening work environment when they came here to serve their country, to serve their ideals, that’s wrong.

“That’s a disgrace,” he said.

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But asked whether Ryan and other lawmakers on Capitol Hill should speak out more about the 16 women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment or sexual assault, the Speaker demurred.

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

Ryan’s remarks come just hours before the House votes on a resolution to mandate anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all lawmakers and their staffers. The Senate has already adopted a similar resolution.

The vote comes in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, as well as two sitting members of Congress: Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenCongress sends bill overhauling sexual harassment policy to Trump's desk Senate approves bill reforming Congress's sexual harassment policy Kamala Harris to keep seat on Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersBrenda Jones sworn into House for final weeks of 2018 GOP approves rule for Don Young Michigan New Members 2019 MORE Jr. (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of Congress who stepped down this week as the top Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

A handful of Democrats are calling for Conyers to resign from office, but Ryan wouldn’t go that far on Wednesday.

“I know what I would do if this happened to me,” Ryan told reporters, suggesting he himself would step aside if faced with similar allegations. “I will leave it up to him to decide. I think he made the right decision stepping down from his leadership position.”

Taxpayer dollars were paid out in a 2015 settlement to resolve sexual harassment allegations against Conyers, a practice that has surprised many lawmakers in both parties.

House Administration Committee Chairman Greg Harper (R-Miss.) said he is conducting a comprehensive review that would include the practice of secret congressional settlements. His committee will hold a hearing next week.

Since 1997, Harper said, roughly $17 million in taxpayer money has been paid out to settle more than 260 claims. But he cautioned that many of those claims did not focus on sexual harassment. A number of claims were paid out in 2002 related to the Capitol anthrax attacks, while there were a series of asbestos claims in 2007.

“We’re waiting for the committee to review the entire process to see how this settlements issue needs to be addressed, reformed going forward,” Ryan said. “We don’t want to make one-off decisions. We want to make a comprehensive decision.”