Category Archives: World

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With Christmas Tree Delivered, White House to Unveil Holiday Decor Monday

Melania Trump and son Barron joined in a time-honored tradition of receiving the official White House Christmas tree, which will become the showstopper for a president who has vowed to put Christmas back at the center of the winter holidays.

A military quartet played holiday tunes Monday as a horse-drawn wagon carried the 19 1/2-foot (5.9-meter) Balsam fir from Wisconsin up the White House driveway.

The first lady, wearing a red turtleneck and a coat draped over her shoulders, and 11-year-old Barron, in a dark suit coat, white shirt and dark slacks, circled the tree and then visited with growers Jim and Diane Chapman. The Chapmans own a Wisconsin Christmas tree farm and won an annual contest sponsored by the National Christmas Tree Association.

“This is a beautiful tree. Thank you so much. We will decorate it very nicely,” the first lady told the Chapmans and other family members. “I hope you can come and visit with us.”

The White House grounds superintendent and the chief usher, who oversees the residence, picked out the tree during a September scouting trip.

After Mrs. Trump and Barron gave their symbolic approval, the tree was carefully carted off to the Blue Room where, after a slight trim and the removal of a monstrous chandelier, it will take center stage.

President Donald Trump has been eagerly waiting to celebrate a Trump Christmas at the White House. During last year’s presidential campaign, he railed against the habit of saying “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” characterizing it as a “chipping away at Christianity.”

“And we’re not going to let that happen anymore, folks. I’ll tell you,” the then-candidate said at a March 2016 news conference in Florida. “A lot of times I’ll say at the rallies around Christmastime we’re going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. You know, they don’t say it anymore. The department stores don’t put it up. We’re going to start saying it again.”

Invitations to dozens of holiday parties hosted by the Trumps are going out. The subject line of one emailed invite references a White House “Christmas reception” while the language of the invitation itself refers to a “holiday reception.”

The tree for the Blue Room usually arrives the day after Thanksgiving, but it was delivered early this year to accommodate the Trumps, who are spending the holiday at their Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

While the Trumps are away, a small army of volunteer decorators and florists from around the country will descend on the White House on Friday and spend the holiday weekend transforming the 132-room mansion for Christmas, complete with a tree in every public room.

The White House kitchens will go into overdrive preparing all the food and cakes, cookies and pies that are typically served at the parties, along with the gingerbread White House — which, for health reasons, is never eaten. In recent years, cookies in the image of former President Barack Obama’s dogs Bo and Sunny were always among the first items to be slipped into purses for the trip home.

Trump does not have a pet.

The White House plans to unveil the holiday decor Monday, and the first lady will also welcome children and students from Joint Base Andrews for a holiday arts and crafts event. The president plans to light the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse on Thursday.

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FCC Chairman Sets Out to Repeal ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday followed through on his pledge to repeal 2015 regulations designed to ensure that internet service providers treat all online content and apps equally, setting up a showdown with consumer groups and internet companies who fear the move will stifle competition and innovation.

The current rules, known as net neutrality, impose utility-style regulation on ISPs such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to prevent them from favoring their own digital services over those of their rivals.

Pai said that he believes the net neutrality rules adopted during the Obama administration discourage the ISPs from making investments in their network that would provide even better and faster online access.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement.

Pai distributed his alternative plan to other FCC commissioners Tuesday in preparation for a Dec. 14 vote on the proposal. He promised to release his entire proposal Wednesday.

The attempt to repeal net neutrality has triggered protests from consumer groups and internet companies. More than 22 million comments have been filed with the FCC about whether net neutrality should be rolled back.

The Internet Association, a group whose members include major internet companies such as Google and Amazon, vowed to continue to fight to keep the current net neutrality rules intact.

“Consumers have little choice in their ISP, and service providers should not be allowed to use this gatekeeper position at the point of connection to discriminate against websites and apps,” the group’s CEO Michael Beckerman said in a Tuesday statement.

Consumers Union predicted a repeal of net neutrality would allow ISPs to raise their prices and give preferential treatment to certain sites and apps.

“Strong net neutrality rules are vital to consumers’ everyday lives and essential to preserving the internet as we know it today _ an open marketplace where websites large and small compete on equal terms and where information and ideas move freely,” said Jonathan Schwantes, the advocacy group’s senior policy counsel.

Two of the FCC’s five voting commissioners signaled they will oppose Pai’s plan.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel derided Pai’s plan as “ridiculous and offensive to the millions of Americans who use the internet every day.”

Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn skewered Pai’s proposals as “a giveaway to the nation’s largest communications companies, at the expense of consumers and innovation.”

Rosenworcel and Clyburn are the lone Democrats on the FCC.

Pai’s proposal on net neutrality comes after the Republican-dominated commission voted 3-2 last week to weaken rules meant to support independent local media, undoing a ban on companies owning newspapers and broadcast stations in a single market.

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US Judge Blocks Trump Order on Sanctuary Cities

A federal judge has further blocked the Trump administration’s order to cut funding to so-called sanctuary cities.

The move by U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick in San Francisco made permanent Monday his earlier ruling from April that temporarily stayed the order. Orrick agreed with plaintiffs who argued the order violates the constitution.

The city and county of San Francisco and Santa Clara County filed the suit.

“The Counties have demonstrated that the Executive Order has caused and will cause them constitutional injuries by violating the separation of powers doctrine and depriving them of their Tenth and Fifth Amendment rights,” Orrick wrote in his order.

The January 25 executive order called for federal funding to be withheld from sanctuary jurisdictions, and the judge said the president cannot put new conditions on money already allocated by Congress.

But the administration has argued that sanctuary cities, which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to detain illegal immigrants arrested in criminal cases, often for minor offenses, pose a threat to the safety of their residents.

“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Wednesday, urging all jurisdictions “found to be potentially out of compliance” to reconsider “policies that undermine the safety of their residents. Sessions’ statement accompanied a list 29 jurisdictions that the Justice Department says may be in violation of a statute that promotes immigration enforcement. The list includes both Santa Clara County and the city and county of San Francisco.

The city of Chicago has also sued the federal government over threats of cuts to funding. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the U.S. government from denying the public safety grants in September.

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US Ending Temporary Permits for At Least 50,000 Haitians

After years of being shielded from deportation from the United States while their country recovers from a devastating 2010 earthquake, tens of thousands of Haitians will lose that security status.

“It was assessed overall that the extraordinary but temporary conditions that served as the basis of Haiti’s most recent designation has sufficiently improved such that they no longer prevent nationals of Haiti from returning safely,” a senior Trump administration official said during a briefing.

Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, will be revoked for at least 50,000 Haitians living and working in the U.S.

The announcement came in advance of a Thursday deadline for the decision to be made regarding Haiti’s TPS benefits.

The protection will expire July 22, 2019, giving Haitians living in the U.S. an 18-month window to go back to their homeland or legalize their status in the United States.

Haitians with TPS status have a 60-day window to submit an application to renew their status until the 2019 deadline. When that time comes, they will revert to their prior immigration status. Administration officials said Monday evening that Haitians with TPS would not be subject to deportation proceedings until the deadline.

In making the announcement, officials said that conditions on the ground in Haiti resulting from the 2010 earthquake that first let to the establishment of TPS “no longer exist.”

However, advocates argue that Haiti is in no condition to handle the influx, seven years after the 7.0-magnitude quake created billions of dollars in damages, and left 300,000 dead, 1.5 million injured and an equal number internally displaced.

The country was also recently hit by Hurricane Matthew, which created $2.8 billion in damages last year, followed by damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria. Haiti also is battling a deadly cholera epidemic.

Last week, the Office of Civil Protection confirmed that at least five people had died and 10,000 homes were flooded after days of rain.

In May, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly extended TPS for Haitians for six months, not the one-year extension advocated by Haiti’s government.

Kelly said at the time that the extension “should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, told VOA at the time that the Caribbean country, while glad to welcome back “our brothers and sisters,” was not ready to absorb tens of thousands of returnees “overnight.”

Fear of deportation sparked an exodus of at least several thousand Haitian immigrants this summer, who illegally crossed the Canadian border seeking asylum in the French-speaking province of Quebec.

According to a recent study by the Center for Migration Studies, most Haitians on TPS have been living in the United States for 13 years and have 27,000 U.S.-citizen children among them. More than 80 percent are employed, while 6,200 have mortgages. Haitian immigrant communities primarily are in South Florida, New York, New Jersey and eastern Massachusetts.

TPS was ended for Sudan last month. On January 8, the administration will have to make a decision about more than 130,000 TPS holders from El Salvador.

Earlier this month, in terminating the TPS program for thousands of Nicaraguans who fled to the U.S. after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and deferring a decision on 57,000 similarly affected Hondurans until July, the acting secretary of homeland security, Elaine Duke, acknowledged the “difficulties” families would face and called on Congress to find a permanent solution.

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Elephant Advocates Sue Trump Administration on Trophy Hunting

Conservation groups sued the U.S. government on Monday over a plan to allow hunters to bring home elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe, following changing statements about the possible move by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The lawsuit in federal court in Washington was the latest move in a saga that began last week when a trophy hunting group said at a conference in Africa that the White House was ready to overturn a rule banning the import of elephant trophies, sparking a surge of criticism from wildlife advocates.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement that their lawsuit intended to resolve “contradictory announcements” by the Republican administration about trophy imports of the at-risk species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday said it had concluded that Zimbabwe and Zambia had developed conservation plans that would allow sustainable hunting of the endangered species, an announcement that came the same week that Zimbabwe was rocked by a coup. A proposal published on Friday would have allowed both elephant and lion trophies shot in Zimbabwe, but not Zambia, to be imported into the United States.

“These two final agency actions are arbitrary and capricious, as the conclusions that trophy hunting of elephants and lions in Zimbabwe enhances the survival of the species are not supported by the evidence,” the conservation groups said in their 34-page lawsuit Monday.

The lawsuit asked a judge to rule the move illegal and named as defendants Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Interior Department referred queries about the lawsuit to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following the release of the proposed Zimbabwe rules, the White House said it had made no decision to allow trophy imports.

“Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal,” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.

Africa’s elephant population plunged by about a fifth between 2006 and 2015 because of increased poaching for ivory, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said last year.

Wildlife activists argue that corruption is endemic in impoverished Zimbabwe, and that money generated by big game hunting and meant for conservation has been diverted to crooks and poachers.

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Alabama Candidate’s Sexual Abuse Accuser Says She Took Decades to Recover

The Alabama woman who has accused Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually abusing her four decades ago when she was 14 and he was 32 said Monday it took her decades before she regained her sense of trust and confidence in herself.

Leigh Corfman, now 53, told NBC’s Today show that she was “a 14-year-old child trying to play in an adult’s world” when Moore, then a local prosecutor, initiated the 1979 encounter with her.

“I was expecting candlelight and roses, what I got was very different,” she said. “I felt guilty. I felt like I was the one to blame. It was decades before I was able to let that go.”

Corfman’s accusations against Moore first appeared in The Washington Post more than a week ago, but her NBC appearance was her first televised account.

Corfman said she “didn’t deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon” her.

“I met him around the corner from my house, my mother did not know and he took me to his home,” Corfman said. “After arriving at his home on the second occasion that I went with him he basically laid out some blankets on the floor of his living room and proceeded to … seduce me, I guess you would say.”

She had told the newspaper that Moore took off her “shirt and pants and removed his clothes,” touched her over her bra and underpants and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear before she ended the encounter. She asked him to take her home, and he did.

Franken allegations

Meanwhile, a second woman has accused Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota of groping her.

The woman, Lindsay Menz, told CNN that while she posed for a picture with Franken at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair, he “pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear. It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek.”

Last week, Los Angeles radio newscaster Leann Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing her in 2006 while they were on a Middle East tour to entertain U.S. troops, then grabbing her breasts while she slept on the flight home. She posted a photo offering evidence of the latter accusation on her radio station’s website.

Franken apologized to Tweeden. Franken said that while he does not remember having a picture taken with Menz, “I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.”

In Alabama, Moore has repeatedly denied the accusations and rebuffed calls from prominent Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and two former Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain, to end his candidacy in the December 12 election. However, the deadline to withdraw from the contest has long since passed and Republican calls for a write-in candidacy of anyone as an alternative to Moore have faltered.

Corfman’s allegations of sexual abuse against Moore, as well as those from another woman, and recollections of Moore’s pursuit of other teenage girls in the late 1970s, have dominated Moore’s attempt to win the contest in the southern state of Alabama against Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor. The election is to fill the last three years of the Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions, who resigned from it to join President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as attorney general, the country’s top law enforcement position.

Since the allegations first surfaced, Trump has largely avoided commenting on them, with the White House at first saying Moore should drop out of the race if the accusations were true. Trump had pushed for Republicans to nominate Luther Strange, the appointed senator now holding the seat, but when Strange lost to Moore in a party primary in September, Trump voiced his support for Moore on Twitter.

The White House signaled Monday it wants Moore to win the contest.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, in interviews with CNN and Fox News, described Jones as a “doctrinaire liberal” who would vote against tax cuts the Trump administration is pushing Congress to adopt.

Asked if the White House was asking people to vote for Moore, Conway deflected the question, but said, “I’m telling you we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump believes it is “up to the people of Alabama who their next senator will be.”

Voter surveys in Alabama have shown that Jones has pulled ahead of Moore by about 5 to 8 percentage points.

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US Envoy to Russia Slams Moscow’s Pending Curbs on US-funded News Outlets

The U.S. ambassador to Russia on Sunday attacked Moscow’s move toward forcing nine United States government-funded news operations to register as “foreign agents” as “a reach beyond” what the U.S. government did in requiring the Kremlin-funded RT television network to register as such in the United States.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman said the Russian reaction is not “reciprocal at all” and Moscow’s move toward regulation of the news agencies, if it is implemented, would make “it virtually impossible for them to operate” in Russia.

WATCH: Ambassador Jon Huntsman

He said the eight-decade-old Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) under which RT has registered as a foreign agent is aimed at promoting transparency, but does not restrict the television network’s operation in the United States.

Russia’s lower house of parliament approved amendments Wednesday to expand a 2012 law that targets non-governmental organizations, including foreign media. A declaration as a foreign agent would require foreign media to regularly disclose their objectives, full details of finances, funding sources and staffing.

Media outlets also may be required to disclose on their social platforms and internet sites visible in Russia that they are “foreign agents.” The amendments also would allow the extrajudicial blocking of websites the Kremlin considers undesirable.

The Russian Justice Ministry said Thursday it had notified the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and seven separate regional outlets active in Russia they could be affected.

“It isn’t at all similar to what we’re doing under FARA — it’s a reach beyond,” Huntsman said. “And, we just think the principles of free media, in any free society and democracy, are absolutely critical to our strength, health, and well-being. Freedom of speech is part of that. So, that’s why I care about the issue. That’s why we in the embassy care about the issue. And, it’s why we’re going to follow the work that is going on in the Duma and the legislation that is being drafted, very very carefully, because we’re concerned about it.”

The Justice Ministry said the new requirements in Russia were likely to become law “in the near future.”

VOA Director Amanda Bennett said last week that if Russia imposes the new restrictions, “We can’t say at this time what effect this will have on our news-gathering operations within Russia. All we can say is that Voice of America is, by law, an independent, unbiased, fact-based news organization, and we remain committed to those principles.”

RFE/RL President Tom Kent said until the legislation becomes law, “we do not know how the Ministry of Justice will use this law in the context of our work.”

 

Kent said unlike Sputnik and other Russian media operating in the United States, U.S. media outlets operating in Russia do not have access to cable television and radio frequencies.

“Russian media in the U.S. are distributing their programs on American cable television. Sputnik has its own radio frequency in Washington. This means that even at the moment there is no equality,” he said.

Serious blow to freedom

The speaker of Russia’s lower house, the Duma, said last week that foreign-funded media outlets that refused to register as foreign agents under the proposed legislation would be prohibited from operating in the country.

However, since the law’s language is so broad, it potentially could be used to target any foreign media group, especially if it is in conflict with the Kremlin. “We are watching carefully… to see whether it is passed and how it is implemented,” said Maria Olson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

The Russian amendments, which Amnesty International said would inflict a “serious blow” to media freedom in Russia if they become law, were approved in response to a U.S. accusation that RT executed a Russian-mandated influence campaign on U.S. citizens during the 2016 presidential election, a charge the media channel denies.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in early 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine American democracy and help real estate mogul Donald Trump win the presidency. A criminal investigation of the interference is underway in the United States, as are numerous congressional probes.

The foreign registration amendments must next be approved by the Russian Senate and then signed into law by Putin.

RT, which is funded by the Kremlin to provide Russia’s perspective on global issues, confirmed last week it met the U.S. Justice Department’s deadline by registering as a foreign agent in the United States.

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New Orleans Elects Its First Woman Mayor

LaToya Cantrell, a City Council member who first gained a political following as she worked to help her hard-hit neighborhood recover from Hurricane Katrina, won a historic election Saturday that made her the first woman mayor of New Orleans.

 

The Democrat will succeed term-limited fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu as the city celebrates its 300th anniversary next year. 

 

“Almost 300 years, my friends. And New Orleans, we’re still making history,” Cantrell told a cheering crowd in her victory speech.

Immigrant wins council seat

Voters also made history in a New Orleans City Council race. 

 

Cyndi Nguyen defeated incumbent James Gray in an eastern New Orleans district. An immigrant who fled Vietnam with her family when she was 5 in 1975, Nguyen is the organizer of a nonprofit and will be the first Vietnamese-American to serve on the council.

 

Mayor’s race

In the mayor’s race, Cantrell was the leader in most polls before the runoff election, she never trailed as votes were counted.

 

Her opponent, former municipal Judge Desiree Charbonnet, conceded the race and congratulated Cantrell late Saturday. Later, complete returns showed Cantrell with 60 percent of the vote. 

 

The two women led a field of 18 candidates in an October general election to win runoff spots. 

 

Landrieu earned credit for accelerating the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in an administration cited for reduced blight, improvements in the celebrated tourism economy and economic development that included last week’s announcement that a digital services company is bringing 2,000 new jobs to the city. 

 

But Cantrell will face lingering problems. Crime is one. Another is dysfunction at the agency overseeing the city’s drinking water system and storm drainage — a problem that became evident during serious flash flooding in August. 

 

About 32 percent of the city’s voters took part in last month’s election. It was unclear whether turnout would surpass that on Saturday.

 

Cantrell faced questions about her use of a city credit card. Charbonnet had to fight back against critics who cast her as an insider who would steer city work to cronies.

 

Katrina a theme

Katrina was a theme in the backstory of both candidates. Cantrell moved to the city from California. Her work as a neighborhood activist in the aftermath of Katrina in the hard-hit Broadmoor neighborhood helped her win a seat on council in 2012. 

 

Charbonnet, from a well-known political family in New Orleans, was the city’s elected recorder of mortgages before she was a judge. In the campaign she made a point of saying hers was the first city office to re-open after Katrina, providing critical property records to the displaced.

 

Former state civil court Judge Michael Bagneris, who finished third in last month’s race, endorsed Cantrell, as did Troy Henry, a businessman who also ran for the post last month. 

 

University of New Orleans political science professor Edward Chervenak said the endorsements appeared to help Cantrell overcome revelations that she had used her city-issued credit card for thousands of dollars in purchases without clear indications that they were for public purposes. The money was eventually reimbursed, but questions lingered about whether she had improperly used city money for personal or campaign expenditures. 

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U.S. General Says He’d Resist ‘Illegal’ Nuclear Strike Order From Trump

The top U.S. nuclear commander was quoted as saying Saturday that he would resist President Donald Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons.

CBS News said Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada, that he had given a lot of thought to what he would say if he received such an order.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

CBS said Hyten, who is responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, explained the process that would follow such a command.

“As head of STRATCOM, I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” he said.

“And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up [with] options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”

Hyten said running through scenarios of how to react in the event of an illegal order was standard practice, and added: “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hyten’s remarks.

They came after questions by U.S. senators, including Democrats and Trump’s fellow Republicans, about Trump’s authority to wage war, use nuclear weapons, and enter into or end international agreements, amid concern that tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs could lead to hostilities.

Trump has traded insults and threats with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and threatened in his maiden U.N. address to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if it threatened the United States.

Some senators want legislation to alter the nuclear authority of the U.S. president, and a Senate committee on Tuesday held the first congressional hearing in more than four decades on the president’s authority to launch a nuclear strike.

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Sexual Harassment, Other Claims in Congress Cost $17 Million Since 1997

The government has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money during the last 20 years to resolve claims of sexual harassment, overtime pay disputes and other workplace violations filed by employees of Congress.

The Office of Compliance released the numbers amid a wave of revelations of sexual misconduct in the worlds of entertainment, business and politics that consumed Capitol Hill this past week.

Two female lawmakers described incidents of sexual harassment, one in explicit detail, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized to a woman who said he forcibly kissed her and groped her during a 2006 USO tour.

Franken faces a likely investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

264 settlements

In a statement on the office’s website Friday, it said “based on the volume of recent inquiries about settlements reached under the Congressional Accountability Act, the executive director is releasing awards and settlement figures for 2015, 2016 and 2017 that would have been released as part of the OOC Annual Report early.”

 

The independent office doesn’t break the figures down, meaning there’s no way to determine how many of the 264 settlements and awards dealt specifically with cases of sexual misconduct brought by legislative branch employees. The office, which was created in 1995 by the Congressional Accountability Act, said the cases may involve violations of multiple statutes.

The claims range from sexual harassment complaints, allegations of religious and racial discrimination, and overtime pay disputes, according to the office. The money has been paid out between 1997 and 2017. The largest number of settlements, 25, occurred in 2007 when just more than $4 million was paid out, according to the figures. The money comes from an account in the U.S. Treasury.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the House will move ahead on legislation requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs. The Senate has voted for mandatory training for senators, staff and interns.

​Move to overhaul reporting process

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have introduced legislation to overhaul the process of reporting sexual harassment. Victims of sexual misconduct are currently required to undergo counseling, mediation and a 30-day “cooling off period” before filing a formal complaint with the compliance office.

The bill would eliminate nondisclosure agreements as a condition of initiating mediation and create a public list to identify offices that have sexual harassment complaints pending.

The bill would also protect interns and fellows, make mediation and counseling optional, rather than required before a victim can file a lawsuit or formal complaint, and require members of Congress who settle discrimination cases to pay back the Treasury for the amount of the award.

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