Two senators who were newly sworn into office Wednesday — Doug Jones of Alabama and Tina Smith of Minnesota — have one thing in common.
Both Democrats may owe their new place in Congress to the #MeToo movement.
Smith, Minnesota’s lieutenant governor, replaced former Sen. Al Franken, who resigned from the Senate after confronting multiple allegations of inappropriate touching and kissing. And Jones, a former federal prosecutor who had a historic victory against Republican nominee Roy Moore, may not have been able to pull off such an unlikely win had his opponent not been accused of molesting and pursuing young women years ago.
Gloria Allred, the high-profile lawyer who represented one of Moore’s accusers and a slew of other women who have made allegations against powerful men, including President Donald Trump, told CNN in a phone interview Wednesday that “there’s no more business as usual when it comes to sexual harassment.”
“Women speaking out had an impact on institutional change and in the court of public opinion and it has created a climate in which sexual harassment is unacceptable. And it has caused change,” Allred said. “Were it not for this movement building, Al Franken would never have had to step down and I think that Roy Moore would have been elected. So it has had an impact in the halls of power.”
Smith and Jones come to Washington at a moment when the nation’s capital is being rocked by the #MeToo movement that has swept the country.
Following the dramatic fall of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein after multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations, women and men across the country have spoken out to share their own stories of sexual harassment and abuse, using the hashtag #MeToo. The flood of allegations has taken down, at an unprecedented pace, powerful figures in Hollywood, media and other industries and the hashtag has become shorthand for the cultural and societal reckoning sweeping the globe.
The movement appears to have arrived on Capitol Hill, too. Over the past few months, lawmakers have called for an overhaul of the way sexual harassment complaints are handled and processed on Capitol Hill, and drawn attention to what many say is a pervasive culture of sexism and coercive workplace environment in Congress.
Over the past month, multiple male lawmakers have left office after facing sexual harassment accusations — Franken, as well as Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, and Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican.
Two additional congressmen — Ruben Kihuen, a Nevada Democrat, and Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican — are currently under House Ethics Committee investigations for allegations of sexual harassment. Both have said they will not seek re-election this year, but are opting to finish out their current terms.
Franken announced last month that he would leave office after multiple women said he had inappropriately touched them. In a Senate floor speech sharing his decision to leave Congress, the Minnesota Democrat and former “Saturday Night Live” comedian said some of the allegations leveled against him were simply untrue.
“Over the last few weeks, a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them. I was shocked. I was upset,” Franken said. “But in responding to their claim, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation. Because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously.”
But Franken added: “I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently.”
Moore was accused by multiple women of having pursued them when the women were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s. One woman said she was 14 years old when Moore initiated sexual contact with her.
Throughout his campaign against Jones, Moore repeatedly and emphatically denied the accusations.
“I did not know them,” Moore said days before the Alabama special election of the women who have accused him of misconduct. “I had no encounter with them. I never molested anyone, and for them to say that, I don’t know why they’re saying it, but it’s not true.”
Lawmakers had hoped to introduce bipartisan sexual harassment legislation before the end of the year, but left town after failing to come to an agreement on final language. They now hope to bring up a bill for consideration early in the new year.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat and one of the lawmakers leading those efforts, told CNN last week that Congress shouldn’t be allowed “to operate in a manner that protects the harasser and not the victim. This will change all of that.”