Congress strikes deal on bill for sexual harassment cases involving lawmakers

Lawmakers struck a deal on Wednesday to overhaul Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment policies, reviving the likelihood that the long-stalled effort will make it over the finish line this year.

"We have reached an agreement with the Senate on a strong package of reforms to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 that will focus on protecting victims, strengthening transparency, holding Members accountable for their personal conduct, and improving the adjudication process," House Republican and Democratic leaders said in a joint statement.

“If everything goes as planned, we’ll have our members in agreement in the next day or so. Run the hotline,” Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Senate Intelligence report triggers new calls for action on election security Sunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight MORE (R-Mo.) told reporters, referring to the fast-track procedure to get a bill through the Senate. “We’ll pass the bill first and then send it over to the House.”

Blunt added that he expects the Senate to act by the end of this week, potentially passing the measure as a stand-alone bill by unanimous consent.

Senate Republicans were briefed on the final deal during a closed-door lunch on Tuesday, according to Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP braces for impeachment brawl Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Judge blocks Trump 'public charge' rule | Appeals court skeptical of Trump arguments for Medicaid work requirements | CDC offers guidance for treating vaping-related cases GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe MORE (R-Texas).

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"For too long, victims of sexual harassment in Congress have been forced into a process that lacks transparency and accountability, and fails them at a time when they need the most support," Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Analysis: Warren and Booker most cyber-aware 2020 candidates Poll: Democratic support for Warren climbs to record high MORE (D-Minn.) said in a statement Wednesday.

The push to overhaul Congress’s sexual harassment policies picked up steam in the wake of the national “Me Too” movement and after instances of several lawmakers — including former Reps. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) — using official funds to settle harassment claims.

Both chambers have passed legislation aimed at curbing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, but one of the biggest sticking points was over how to hold members accountable for their actions, leaving the effort in limbo.

The House-passed bill would make members personally liable for both harassment and discrimination settlements, but the Senate version would only make lawmakers only for harassment.

The final agreement mirrors the Senate version, meaning taxpayers would still foot the bill for any discrimination settlements, according to an aide familiar with the negotiations. Lawmakers would be on the hook financially for all harassment and retaliation cases.

"I think it's a good combination of the House bill and the Senate bill," Blunt said. "If a member faces [a] settlement they're responsible for that settlement" on "harassment of all kinds" that they are personally involved in, he added.

The bill includes a provision that would require a review by the House or Senate Ethics committee on any settlement that is made, as well as an annual report on settlements involving members.
 
When asked why the measure won't hold lawmakers personally liable for discrimination, Blunt said: "It really was always about harassment and individual activity. And discrimination is much broader and much harder — certainly people are still protected if they're discriminated against but they're protected like they would be working for any other employer."

Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierEqual Rights Amendment and Justice Ginsburg's 'hope' comments Hacker conference report details persistent vulnerabilities to US voting systems Live coverage: House panel to hear about whistleblower complaint MORE (D-Calif.), who has been leading efforts in the House, told reporters on Wednesday that "there should be a document that you can view very soon.”

A House Democratic aide said it’s unclear whether the measure will be voted on as a stand-alone bill or attached to a government funding package in the House, but said the goal is to get it passed before the end of this Congress.

Jordain Carney contributed.