Senate passes key bill combating sexual harassment as the rest of Democrats’ agenda languishes

Congress will likely pass smaller legislation as Democrats’ major agenda items are mostly dead

Eric Garcia
Thursday 10 February 2022 20:43 GMT
Separate investigations of sexual harassment claims against Commanders owner Dan Snyder

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Louise Thomas

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A Democratic Senate leader congratulating a former Fox News host is not a common site on Capitol Hill, or anywhere else. But so is Democrats’ celebrating with Republicans on major policy victories.

Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer embraced and congratulated former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson on Thursday after the Senate voted to end forced arbitration for survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Ms Carlson had sued former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes for sexual harassment back in 2016.

But as soon as the Senate passed the legislation, which had already cleared the House, her phone started to blow up.

“This is a great day for millions of workers,” Ms Carlson told The Independent as she wiped tears from her eyes.

Sen Lindsey Graham, who collaborated with Sen Kirsten Gillibrand on the legislation, also praised the legislation and said it would be good for business.

“It’s to help. It’s going to make it easier for people to have their complaints heard about misconduct in the workplace and harder to bury these things,” Mr Graham said. “People like Ms Carlson got behind it and made it real. The victims made it real.”

Ms Carlson said that she had more plans for people who experienced sexual harassment and sexual assault. The legislation is an outspring of the #MeToo movement that began four and a half years ago in response to stories of sexual harassment. The legislation passed overwhelmingly by voice vote.

The press conference celebrating the passage afterward brought together Mr Graham and Mr Schumer, as well as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and Sen Chuck Grassley. Sen Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, the main sponsor, thanked Mr Graham, mentioning how they worked on sexual harassment and sexual assault for more than a decade.

“This is one of the most significant workplace reforms in American history,” she said. “The bill is going to help fix a broken system that protects perpetrators and corporations and ends the days of silencing survivors. No longer will survivors of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace come forward and be told that they are legally forbidden to sue their employer because somewhere buried in their employment contracts was this forced arbitration clause.”

In addition, the legislation, which will head to President Joe Biden’s desk, will voice all previous forced arbitration provisions for sexual assault and harassment.

Gretchen Carlson worked at Fox for 11 years
Gretchen Carlson worked at Fox for 11 years (Rex Features)

The legislation also comes as much of Democrats’ other legislative priorities have stalled. With a slim 50-50 majority, Democrats need every member of their caucus united to pass anything. But Sen Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, has opposed Democrats’ signature Build Back Better legislation, citing his concerns with inflation.

That was compounded by Thursday’s inflation report, which found that the Consumer Price Index jumped 0.6 per cent last month, the largest increase for any 12-month period since February 1981 to February 1982.

Mr Manchin said he was frustrated on the lack of discussion tax policy that would “get our financial house in order.”

“Nobody’s talking about that,” he said, but said Mr Biden is concerned about inflation. He said that many of the social programs in the proposed legislation are worthwhile. But he said he wanted them to go through a fair hearing. “This is changing the whole social fabric of America and when you do that, you want all the input and transparency you can.”

Mr Biden said last month that it is likely that his signature legislation--which would include everything from an expanded child tax credit to child care to home care for elederly people and people with disabilities to provisions to combat climate change--would likely need to be broken into “big chunks.”

Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told The Independent on Tuesday what she thought the priorities should be for Democrats.

“Well I think climate is a number one because it includes a lot of infrastructure and the other needs, housing, et cetera. Immigration is also a really huge thing that needs to be met,” she said. “And this climate piece, I think is important to articulate that it includes other pieces. So there’s that, and you know, Covid. Addressing a lot of the needs from Covid.”

When asked about paid family leave, which Mr Manchin has objected to despite lobbying from Ms Gillibrand and other Democratic Senators, Mr Manchin deflected.

“I have nothing to say on this stuff, I don’t know what you all are not listening,” he said. “You just keep asking over and over and over. Do you think I’ve changed?”

When asked about how Democrats have lobbied for him, he said, “I have never changed. I have never changed. For a year now.”

Similarly, Democrats’ failed to pass a revised version of the Voting Rights Act last month after Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema refused to allow a change in the filibuster to pass the legislation.

Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate have both attempted to pass a ban on members of Congress trading stocks. On Thursday, Ms Ocasio-Cortez announced new legislation with Sens Jeff Merkley and Sherrod Brown as well as Reps Raja Krishnamoorthi and Joe Neguse.

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