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Thursday July 9th, 2020 9:17AM

Facing pressure, House nears OK of anti-harassment training

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Under heavy pressure to address burgeoning sexual misconduct allegations, the House moved toward easy approval Wednesday of a bipartisan measure requiring lawmakers and aides to take annual anti-harassment training.

The vote approached as a Congress battling over Republican tax cuts and a potential government shutdown was also being forced to address accusations against some of its own. They included liberal heroes Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken and far-right GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama.

"Sexual harassment has no place in any workplace, let alone in the United States Congress," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters. He called having a hostile environment on Capitol Hill "a disgrace" and added, "We will not tolerate that kind of behavior."

Despite the unanimity in addressing the problem, there was discord as one Democrat complained that leaders weren't being aggressive enough against Conyers, D-Mich. Conyers, 88, surrendered his post as the House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat after a report that he'd quietly settled a complaint by a former aide who said he'd harassed her, but at least three of his colleagues have said he should quit the House.

One of them, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said she left a meeting of House Democrats early because the harassment issue wasn't being taken seriously enough. She cited recent firings of media figures by their companies and told reporters, "We don't do the same, and I think it's a disgrace."

Top Democrats disputed that, and one senior aide said eight lawmakers discussed the issue at Wednesday's closed-door meeting. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been pressing Conyers to resign from the House, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

Ryan told reporters that Conyers had "made the right decision" by leaving his Judiciary post. Conyers has returned to Detroit.

But the speaker sidestepped a question on whether lawmakers should more vocally address some women's claims that they were sexually harassed by Donald Trump before he became president.

"Right now we're focused on making sure this place works the right way," Ryan said.

Trump and Conyers have denied the accusations against them.

Underscoring lawmakers' concerns that they be viewed as addressing the issue properly, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he'd complete his anti-harassment training on Wednesday. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said that at a closed-door meeting Wednesday of House Republicans, Ryan told them, "'Make sure by the end of this month you can say you've gone through training.'"

Lawmakers say the House anti-harassment training measure, similar to a plan the Senate already approved, is merely a first step. They are considering legislation that would strengthen Congress' lax and lengthy procedures for workers who want to lodge complaints. That includes the little-known practice in which lawmakers settle complaints with federally financed settlements for which recipients must promise to not publicly discuss the allegations.

Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., a sponsor of Wednesday's House resolution, said in a brief interview that lawmakers are considering ending taxpayer-funded settlements, giving victims of alleged harassment more rights and requiring more information about complaints to be publicly released.

Conyers, the longest serving member of the House, is under fire after a news website reported on a settlement with a staffer who said he sexually harassed her, then fired her after she rebuffed his advances. Other former staffers have also come forward with claims of inappropriate behavior.

Franken was accused by one woman of forcibly kissing her during a USO tour in the Middle East in 2006, and three others have said he grabbed their buttocks while posing for pictures. Franken has apologized and said he welcomes a Senate Ethics Committee investigation.

In Alabama, Moore faces allegations of preying on teenage girls decades ago. Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have called on Moore to drop his candidacy, saying they believe the women, but Trump has all but endorsed Moore.

In addition, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has apologized after a nude photo of him was leaked on social media.

___

AP reporters Juliet Linderman and Kevin Freking contributed.

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