Congress moves to deter sexual harassment on Capitol Hill

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 8:35 PM

Buffeted by recent revelations of inappropriate sexual behavior by major celebrities and Hollywood figures, lawmakers in the House and Senate have moved in the past week to make sure that members of Congress – and their staffers – get improved training on the issue of sexual harassment.

“A recent study found that one in four women have been sexually harassed in the workplace,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), as the Senate approved a resolution on Thursday to start mandatory sexual for Senators and their staffers.

“No place of work is immune to the all-too-prevalent scourge of sexual harassment, but we in Congress have a particular duty to set high standards of conduct,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA).

“Sexual harassment has no place in our society, in the workplace, and certainly not in the United States Senate,” said Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV).

The move to start such training for Senate employees came a week after House Speaker Paul Ryan had sent a memo asking House lawmakers and their workers to do the same.

A House panel will hold a hearing on the matter next Tuesday, as the recent revelations prompted Congressional leaders to act.

One of those testifying next week, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), revealed in late October that when she worked as a staffer on Capitol HIll, she had been subjected to an unwanted sexual advance in her office.

“I was attacked as a congressional staffer, and I remember the fear and shame,” Speier said, calmly looking directly into the camera, as she used a video to describe how her office boss tried to take advantage of her, appealing to female workers on Capitol Hill to come forward if they had suffered from sexual harassment.

So far, the rush of recent stories has not included any current member of Congress, but there have been hints of that from female lawmakers, past and present.

As for examples of men harassing women in the actual House and Senate,
a recent story by the Associated Press demonstrated that there is evidence of past wrongdoing, as former and current female lawmakers related stories of sexually suggestive actions by male lawmakers – some still serving in Congress.

Ex-Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA), who followed her late husband into the Congress when she was in her late 30’s, told the AP about one male colleague.

“I thought about you while I was in the shower,” Bono said the male lawmaker told her. She refused to identify him in the interview, but has spoken out about the matter in recent television interviews.

When Bono was elected to replace her husband in the U.S. House in 1998, it didn’t take long for her to be noticed.

I would often watch from the Speaker’s Lobby just off the House floor, as male Republican lawmakers – most of whom were married – basically chased Bono around the House chamber.

It often looked more like a bunch of high school guys who were desperate to get the attention of the prettiest girl in the class.

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Trump backs arming “highly trained teachers” over school guards to deter future school shootings

Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 3:00 AM

A day after an emotional meeting with parents and family members to discuss the threat of school shootings in the United States, President Donald Trump on Thursday signaled his strong support for the idea of allowing some teachers and administrators to carry a firearm at schools, in order to form a first line of defense.

“Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive,” the President tweeted, arguing it would stop any “savage sicko” who was intent on attacking students.

“Far more assets at much less cost than guards,” the President tweeted, as he said undefended schools are a “magnet for bad people.”

“ATTACKS WOULD END!” the President added. “GREAT DETERRENT!”

In a series of morning tweets, Mr. Trump first objected to news reports which he said he would support arming teachers, and then went on to detail how this would be a special plan for only certain people at a school.

The President’s comments came hours before a second day of meetings on school security, as he prepared to meet with state and local officials; the White House had not made public who would be in that meeting in the Roosevelt Room.

In his Wednesday meeting, which featured wrenching stories from parents who lost children, and students who lost friends last week in Parkland, Florida, the President emphasized a series of themes:

+ Stronger school security, by hardening entrance points to schools.
+ Allowing teachers and administrators to carry a firearm in a school.
+ Stronger background checks on guns sales, though Mr. Trump has yet to define exactly what that would entail.
+ Raising the age to purchase a powerful weapon like an AR-15.
+ Doing more to provide mental health treatment to people – like the Florida shooter – who have been identified to authorities.

In Congress, Democrats were calling on the President to take extra steps toward gun control – but it was not clear if Mr. Trump would do that, even as the White House said earlier in the week that items like a ban on assault weapons was on the table for discussion.

Democrats pointed the finger at the National Rifle Association for the lack of action on the issue in House and Senate.

“The NRA has been an implacable enemy of legal mechanisms to enforce gun laws,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA).

But with a solid majority in the Congress right now favoring the side of gun rights, any quick move to press forward with gun controls seemed to be remote – unless it drew support from the President himself.

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Trump searches for answers amid wrenching stories from Florida school shooting

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 12:54 PM

Hearing from parents and students who lost friends and family members in last week’s school shooting in Florida, President Donald Trump said it was time for the nation to work together to better safeguard schools, as he advocated stronger security including the possibility of allowing teachers and administrators to carry concealed weapons during the school day.

“It’s very difficult, it’s very complex, but we’ll find a solution,” the President said as he wrapped the over hour long listening session, which featured tears from parents and students.

“I’m never going to see my kid again, I want you all to know that,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was among those killed last week in Florida.

“My beautiful daughter, I’m never going to see again,” Pollack added, flanked by his two sons.

The over hour long session was respectful on all sides, as parents and students pleaded with the President to do something to end school shootings.

“I was actually in the second classroom that was shot at,” said Jonathan Blank, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

“In my mind, as a kid, nothing that horrible should ever have to happen to you,” Blank added.

Echoing some of the calls for action by other Douglas students, Sam Zeif used his time before the President to make a tearful plea for change on powerful weapons like the AR-15.

“I don’t understand why I could still go into a store and buy a weapon of war,” Zeif said, fighting back tears.

“I don’t know how I’m ever going to step foot in that place again,” Zeif said of his school.

As for the President, he listened quietly as students and parents told their stories and made their requests – Mr. Trump said he’s still developing his plan to deal with school shootings, but seemed to outline a series of ideas that he backs:

+ Stronger school security, by hardening entrance points to schools.
+ Allowing teachers and administrators to carry a firearm in a school.
+ Stronger background checks on guns sales, though Mr. Trump has yet to define exactly what that would entail.
+ Raising the age to purchase a powerful weapon like an AR-15.
+ Doing more to provide mental health treatment to people – like the Florida shooter – who have been identified to authorities.

“If you have a teacher – who was adept at firearms – you could very well end the attack very quickly,” the President said of the idea of concealed carry in schools, as he compared it to airline pilots being allowed to carry a gun in the aftermath of the Nine Eleven attacks.

“If these cowards knew that the school was well guarded,” the President said, “I don’t think they would go into the school in the first place.”

“Thank you for pouring out your hearts, because the world is watching,” the President said as he wrapped up the White House event.

“We’re going to come up with a solution.”

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Congress waits to see what President Trump does on various gun control plans

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 8:08 AM

As several hundred high school students rallied at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, asking lawmakers to press for gun controls, there were more calls in the halls of Congress for action on gun violence, with both parties waiting to see what the President might do on guns, as the White House did not immediately reject some of the ideas, like age limits for people buying high-powered weapons like an AR-15.

“I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up in the next couple of weeks,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Tuesday, when asked about the age limit idea.

That plan is already drawing bipartisan support, as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced that he is working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on a measure to raise the minimum purchase age to 21, from 18.

Feinstein has also advocated a return of something that was put into law on a temporary basis in 1994, a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons.

“When the assault weapons ban was in place, the number of gun massacres fell by 37% and the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43%,” Feinstein argues.

But while that might sell with a number of Democrats in Congress today, you don’t have to go back too far – only to the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 – to see that a number of Democrats voted against such a plan back then.

Some Democrats argue that 2018 – and the Parkland, Florida school shooting – will be different, as a growing number of students have demanded action on gun control.

While students from Florida were rallying at their state capitol in Tallahassee, several hundred students from the Washington, D.C. area marched to the Capitol to voice their demands.

“Keep guns out of schools,” read one sign. “Ban Assault Weapons,” was another, as the students urged action in the Congress.

“I came out of my office to say, I am with you 100 percent,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), one of many more liberal Democrats who would like to see action on gun control.

But despite the enthusiasm, the path forward for almost any gun measure is cloudy at best in the Congress, as GOP leaders have given no hint that they will suddenly bring gun bills backed by Democrats to a vote in the House and Senate.

The one wild card may be President Trump, who has held more liberal views on guns in the past, including support for an assault weapons ban.

On Tuesday night, the President tweeted his support for stricter background checks on gun buyers – but that type of statement can mean many different things.

Was the President saying he would back plans from Democrats to require private gun sales to have a background check – what’s been referred to for many years as the ‘gun show loophole?’

Or is this tweet from the President something less sweeping – simply about insuring that more information gets into the instant check database system?

Like lawmakers, reporters weren’t getting much in the way of detailed answers on some of the more controversial items of gun control legislation – for example, does Mr. Trump still favor an assault weapons ban?

“I don’t have any specific announcements, but we haven’t closed the door on any front,” Mr. Trump’s Press Secretary said in response.

It was a reminder that the President could roil the gun debate in Congress, depending on how he deals with some of these post-Parkland issues.

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Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probe

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM

Robert Mueller - Fast Facts

An attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to the FBI in the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump's campaign.

The charges against lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan are the latest in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

READ MORE: Who is Rick Gates and why was he indicted by Robert Mueller?Who is Paul Manafort, the man indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation?What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with?MORE

Special Counsel Robert Mueller Files First Charges

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