Pressure is mounting on congressional leaders to release the names of lawmakers who have secretly settled sexual harassment claims at taxpayer expense — a move that some members of Congress are loath to make.
President Donald Trump told reporters this week that he believes Congress should disclose the settlements. A handful of House members from both parties are calling on Republican leadership to do the same.
And Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) proposed legislation Wednesday that would mandate public disclosure of sexual harassment settlements — and ban Congress from footing the bill for such deals in the future. Within a few hours of introducing his bill, DeSantis had been contacted by several Republican and Democratic lawmakers asking to sign on.
“It’s taxpayer dollars at issue; taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent,” DeSantis said in an interview, adding that he doesn’t understand “why the taxpayer should ever be on the hook for private misconduct of a member. … That should not be something the taxpayers are funding.”
The effort by DeSantis and other lawmakers has sparked an uncomfortable debate inside an institution known for protecting its own. As a national controversy over sexual misconduct by powerful men swirls, some lawmakers worry that the push for disclosure could unfairly unmask members of Congress who insist they’ve been wrongly accused.
Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office and the House Administration Committee have not ruled out potential changes to the settlement reporting process as part of an ongoing review of the chamber’s harassment policy. But there’s strong, albeit quiet, resistance on Capitol Hill to disclosing the names of members who’ve reached settlements in the past.
Some lawmakers and aides worry that several sitting members of Congress are among those who’ve paid their accusers in recent years. Some of them say that settling a claim doesn’t necessarily mean the member was guilty. There are times when it is preferable to settle than to engage in a prolonged legal battle, these people surmise.