Democratic women look to expand tent in their campaign against sexual harassment

Politician Direct 891108664 Democratic women look to expand tent in their campaign against sexual harassment Politics Washington Post
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After Golden Globes attendees wore all black in a statement against sexual misconduct in Hollywood, Democratic lawmakers announced they plan to wear black at President Trump’s first State of the Union address to highlight how prevalent the issue is in American politics.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has been among the most prominent voices on the matter, is leading the protest. Speier authored a bill to strengthen victims’ rights in the reporting and mediation process for harassment claims in Congress. After the plan went public, she said in a written statement, “This is a culture change that is sweeping the country and Congress is embracing it.”

Since October, seven congressmen have resigned or said they would not seek reelection amid allegations of sexual harassment or other misconduct. The three Democrats who lost their jobs, Al Franken (Minn.), John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) and Ruben Kihuen (Nev.), stepped down at the urging of female lawmakers in their party.

The exodus of some of those men has attracted some criticism, with liberal voters and donors arguing that pushing out those lawmakers who are most likely to vote in favor of Democratic women’s priorities could end up doing more harm than good — especially in districts where Republicans have a good shot at winning in the next election.

The Democrats’ approach to what some call an epidemic also underscores the silence of many female GOP lawmakers on the issue. And the Democrats’ strategy of holding their own accountable with the hope their GOP colleagues would follow suit has not borne much fruit. No female GOP lawmaker in Congress has publicly called for Trump, who faces more than a dozen allegations of sexual assault, to resign — even as a number of leading figures in media, Hollywood, sports and politics have stepped down or been fired over similar allegations.

This has not gone unnoticed and is especially noteworthy for a party whose leaders have expressed concern about how poorly it is faring with female voters.

Of course, combating sexual assault is not solely a political issue. Female Democratic lawmakers note this scourge afflicts all the industries where their female constituents work — and their protest is in support of those women.

“We are supporting the brave women in every industry and every corner of the country who are making their voices heard. We are at a watershed moment in the nationwide fight against sexual harassment and discrimination, and we must continue to keep up the drumbeat of action for real change,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

Speier wants that task to fall on more than just Democratic women in Congress, she tweeted.

It is not clear whether any male Democratic lawmakers will join the protest at the State of the Union. But it is safe to say even if some Republican men and women join in, the politician in Washington facing the most allegations of sexual assault — the commander in chief himself — will probably not be participating in the protest.