Capitol Hill's sexual harassment bill fight not expected to be resolved before Election Day

The months-long negotiations over the long-stalled sexual harassment legislation on Capitol Hill have not yi...

Posted: Sep 13, 2018 6:10 AM
Updated: Sep 13, 2018 6:10 AM

The months-long negotiations over the long-stalled sexual harassment legislation on Capitol Hill have not yielded a final product yet, with some concern starting to emerge among Senate and House negotiators that a final bill could not be passed before Election Day.

Such a delay would show that nearly a year after the #metoo campaign swept through Congress last fall, lawmakers may not have passed a bill to remedy the way sexual harassment claims are made and handled on Capitol Hill.

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"I felt pretty good about this prior to the House taking their long scheduled break in August and we haven't really progressed much since then," Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, one of the Senate negotiators, told CNN Wednesday. "I don't know if it is now likely in the working days that we have left that will get this done before the election."

Aides working on the negotiations on both sides of the aisle, from both the House and Senate, tell CNN that talks to merge the House and Senate bills into one bill are still ongoing -- progress, all sides say, has happened slowly and there is still a genuine commitment to getting something done, eventually.

But multiple congressional aides working on the negotiations also tell CNN that there is growing impatience as the calendar inches towards Election Day.

"The idea that it has taken this long to get done in the first place is absurd," a congressional aide working on the negotiations tells CNN. "My concern is --- is everyone on the same page here or are they going to stall?"

That concern of stalling is echoed from numerous aides.

Some openly questioning if midterm politics are at play, suggesting that members of the House have little motivation to get something done before Election Day, because most likely the final piece of legislation that gets negotiated will ultimately become less stringent than the version the House passed earlier this year.

That's a charge that Blunt seems to agree with.

"I think there are always election implications of these things," Blunt told CNN, "One might be 'why do you want to give any ground on a bill that you've contended is the perfect way to solve the problem and then explain that in the few days before the election.'"

Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has led efforts in the House dating back to last November, believes that progress is being made, her office said Wednesday, noting that if something does not get done before the election they are confident it would be worked out pretty soon thereafter.

The legislation would reform the Congressional Accountability Act, which set up and oversees the process for how sexual harassment complaints are made and handled on Capitol Hill and would hold lawmakers personally liable for paying settlements.

The House passed its version of the legislation in February. The Senate wrote their own bill, a vastly different version, in May.

Since then aides from the two respective committees have been meeting in earnest to try to iron out the differences between the two bills to create one piece of legislation that could be signed into law.

In July negotiators on both sides told CNN they were making steady progress, so much so that establishing a formal conference committee -- where the House and Senate leadership appoint members of Congress to work out the differences, would not be needed.

But in the time since, House and Senate negotiators tell CNN the sticking points between the two sides started with -- over member's personal liability and the details of investigations and numerous other areas -- still remain.

"I thought we were about there at the end of July -- but we never quite got where we needed to get, to get this done," Blunt said.

Complicating their efforts is the very little time left on the legislative agenda before Election Day in November. The House of Representatives is in session for just 15 legislative days before November 6.

Still, aides and members of the Senate Rules Committee and the House Administration Committee continue to meet and trade legislative text, even as recently as this week hoping for real progress.

"I think it can come together very quickly -- I think it's just the question of, is there a will to do that?" another congressional aide working on the negotiations said.

Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, an outgoing Democratic member of Congress says it will be "unacceptable" but unsurprising if the midterm elections come and there is no bill passed.

"It wouldn't be remarkable to me that we won't pass something given the state of dysfunctionality that exists in Washington right now," Crowley said Wednesday on Capitol Hill. "It's been talked about for almost a year now and it's been really remarkable the slow progress that has been made."

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