Stephanie Akin

A Huge Congressional Settlement Involving Sexual Harassment — And Hardly Anyone Knew
Lawmakers on Helsinki Commission blindsided by report of $220K payout

The $220,000 paid to former staffer Winsome Packer in 2014 is by far the largest known settlement involving Congress and accusations of sexual harassment in recent years.

But few, if any, of the lawmakers who served on the congressional commission where Packer worked seem to have been informed about it until the sum was reported by Roll Call on Friday.  

Exclusive: Taxpayers Paid $220K to Settle Case Involving Rep. Alcee Hastings
Former commission staffer alleged sexual harassment by Florida Democrat

The Treasury Department paid $220,000 in a previously undisclosed agreement to settle a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment that involved Florida Democrat Alcee L. Hastings, according to documents obtained by Roll Call.

Winsome Packer, a former staff member of a congressional commission that promotes international human rights, said in documents that the congressman touched her, made unwanted sexual advances, and threatened her job. At the time, Hastings was the chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, where Packer worked.

Roll Call Reporters Discuss Covering Sexual Harassment on the Hill in the #MeToo Era
 

Three reporters participated this week in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit about their experiences covering the sexual harassment allegations on Capitol Hill in the quickly unfolding #MeToo era. Read the full thread from r/politics here....
Want to Know Who Else Has Been Accused of Sexual Harassment in Congress? Good Luck
Congressional offices can’t release basic details of complaints — even to lawmakers

The details of sexual harassment complaints against members of Congress and their staffs are secret and cannot be released to lawmakers seeking to determine the extent of the problem on Capitol Hill, a congressional official testified Thursday. 

“The law doesn’t allow us to release anything,” said Susan Tsui Grundmann, the executive director of the Office of Compliance, which oversees the response to sexual harassment complaints in Congress. She told a hearing of the House Administrative Committee that if lawmakers want to know more — including the number of complaints filed and the names of the accused — they will have to change the law. 

Congress Took Three Decades to Come This Far, Sexual Harassment Victim Says
Dorena Bertussi filed Hill’s first successful harassment complaint in 1988

Shortly after Dorena Bertussi’s name was published in one of the first major sexual harassment scandals in the House of Representatives, she came home to the sound of a ticking clock on her home answering machine.

The police told her she might want to find someplace else to stay for a while.

Lawmakers Still Sending Thoughts and Prayers, Despite Criticism
Outcry over expressions of sympathy symptom of deadlock on guns

Criticism of lawmakers who send “thoughts and prayers” to victims of mass shootings has attracted a lot of attention in the media. But it doesn’t appear to have caused many on Capitol Hill to find something else to say.

Roll Call reviewed statements by lawmakers after Sunday’s mass shooting during a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 26 people, including an unborn child, dead, authorities said. The analysis found that dozens of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle reverted to some form of the expression, sparking an increasingly familiar backlash from gun control advocates and other critics who said the words have become meaningless in light of congressional inaction.

Honoring Eisenhower at Long Last
Memorial to 34th president broke ground Nov. 2

Its critics have called it a “monstrosity,” an “exercise in postmodern grandiosity,” and a “textbook example of the Washington swamp Donald Trump vowed to drain.”

Now, though, a memorial to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, mired in controversy for more than 17 years, is the newest monument under construction on the National Mall.

D.C. Delegate Wants to End Hill’s Pass on Harassment Laws
New bill would force Congress to provide employees same protections

Hill staffers would get the same legal protections against sexual harassment as other workers in the nation’s capital under a bill introduced Tuesday by D.C.’s congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton

“It is impossible to justify exempting congressional offices from the comprehensive provisions Congress now requires of private employers and federal agencies,” Norton said in a press release. “Particularly in a work environment such as Congress, where powerful figures often play an out-sized role with a sense of their own importance, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination must be met head on.”

In Congress, Not Many Want to Say #MeToo
Appeals to Hill staffers to speak out mostly unanswered

Rep. Jackie Speier went first, divulging for the first time in public her experience with what she and others have described as rampant sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.

But the California Democrat’s appeal for others to share their stories has, so far at least, been met with silence. 

Congressional Democrats Call for More Gun Violence Research
Report, House bill draw attention to lack of federal funding

Congressional Democrats have launched renewed calls for federal research into gun violence prevention in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting.

Senate Democrats on Wednesday presented a report from the Government Accountability Office highlighting the limitations lawmakers have imposed on researchers attempting to understand gun violence, which they called a “public health crisis.”

Want to Know How to Curb Gun Violence? Don’t Ask Congress
Majorities have blocked gun-related research for decades

The mass shooting in Las Vegas last week — like every high-profile mass shooting — raised a host of questions about why such horrors happen and how they can be prevented. But don’t look to Congress to help provide the answers.

Could gunman Stephen Paddock have been stopped while he was stockpiling dozens of weapons ahead of his rampage if law enforcement officials had tracked and flagged suspicious gun purchasing patterns?

Record Gains by Latinos Contradict Narrative
Trump’s 2016 victory overshadowed congressional victories

President Donald Trump’s victory last year was widely understood to challenge predictions of a coming surge in Democratic-leaning Latino voters that would forever alter the American electorate. 

But as Latino political leaders kick off National Hispanic Heritage Month this week, some are pointing to Congress to argue that Trump’s win was an anomaly. 

Trump and Sessions: In a Relationship — and It’s Complicated
Strife with presidents is common for post-Watergate AGs

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the Trump administration would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he was also signaling a new act in one of the summer’s most riveting political dramas. 

Sessions had been considered a dead man walking since mid-July, when Trump began berating him in interviews and on social media for his decision to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Yet here he was, on a podium, serving as a proxy for the president as he announced a controversial policy decision that Sessions has sought for years — and on which Trump was reportedly wavering. 

Patrick Murphy Talkin’ ’Bout His Generation
Former congressman to begin Georgetown fellowship this fall

One of the first millennials elected to Congress will head to Georgetown University this fall to help students understand political issues unique to their generation. 

As a fellow with the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy, Former Rep. Patrick Murphy, 34, will lead discussions on how government must adjust to accommodate the so-called “gig” economy, how political careers have changed in the age of social media, and how an anticipated flood of millennial voters could upend norms in Washington, among other issues. 

Democrats Tell Trump to Withdraw Clovis Nomination for USDA
Schumer, Schatz cite nominee’s “extremist views” on race, homosexuality

Senate Democrats said Wednesday they would “vehemently oppose” the appointment of Sam Clovis Jr., President Donald Trump’s nominee for a top scientific post at the Department of Agriculture, potentially dovetailing with unrelated reservations already expressed by a key Senate Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii cited Clovis’ rejection of climate science and his “extremist views” on race and homosexuality in a press release. They called for the immediate withdrawal of his nomination as USDA undersecretary for research, education and economics.

Congress Is Broken, and Staff Members Know Why
Survey reveals dissatisfaction with key performance measures

Members of Congress will return in September to a glut of complex and technically challenging tasks, including tax policy, the debt ceiling, and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

But they won’t have the staff expertise, time or outside resources to do the job.

Millennials and Gen Xers Eclipse Boomers in the Voting Booth — but Will It Matter?
But population shift has yet to impact elections, researchers say

American politics are on the cusp of a revolution. And it has nothing to do with President Donald Trump.

That’s because younger generations — who are generally more liberal and reluctant to identify with either political party — are overtaking their older counterparts for the first time since the baby boomers began to dominate every aspect of American life in the last half of the 20th century, researchers say.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Is Out
Trump announces that he has named Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly as successor

By STEPHANIE AKIN and JOHN T. BENNETTUpdated at 7:20 p.m. President Donald Trump has named Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly as his new White House chief of staff, replacing an embattled Reince Priebus.

Trump’s announcement came after a week of turmoil in the White House that had prompted fervent speculation Priebus would be the next to go. But Priebus’s job has been in question almost since the beginning when he was given the almost impossible goal of uniting disparate ideological factions within the Trump administration and serving as a bridge to establishment Republicans.  

Collins, Murkowski Set the Stage for McCain’s Dramatic Vote
Female senators came under withering criticism, threats in run-up to health care vote

Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine withstood withering criticism — including a rhetorical challenge to a duel and a threat from the White House — to set the stage for the dramatic last-minute health care vote early Friday morning. 

In the end, though, it was Arizona Sen. John McCain — returning to Washington during treatment for brain cancer diagnosis — who got the spotlight.

The Investigations Trump Can’t Stop
Presidential pardons offer no protection from state prosecutions

President Donald Trump might be able to pardon everyone he wants — possibly even himself. But that would not end his legal troubles.

Trump already fired FBI Director James B. Comey amid an investigation into allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia. He has attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, raising questions about whether he intends to try to remove Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department to head the Russia probe.