Current, Former Members Recount Harassment by Colleagues

Bono said she chastised lawmaker over suggestive comments: ‘That’s not cool, that’s just not cool’

Former Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., said a former colleague told her on the House floor that he had been thinking about her while in the shower. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Current and former women members of Congress are opening up about being sexually harassed by some of their fellow lawmakers while they served in Congress.

Former California Rep. Mary Bono, a Republican who served for 15 years, told The Associated Press about a member who she said is still serving who made numerous suggestive comments before, once telling her on the House floor that he had been thinking about her in the shower.

“Instead of being ‘How’s the weather? How’s your career? How’s your bill?’ it was ‘I thought about you while I was in the shower.’ So it was a matter of saying to him, ‘That’s not cool, that’s just not cool,” she said.

Former California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who retired last year, recalled a colleague saying he wanted to “associate” himself with her remarks, and then said he wanted to “associate with the gentle lady.”

Boxer later asked the remarks to be removed from the record, despite their being met with laughter by colleagues.

“That was an example of the way I think we were thought of, a lot of us. ... It’s hostile and embarrasses, and therefore could take away a person’s power,” she said.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, another California Democrat, said she was propositioned by a senior married member when she was a new member of Congress.

The women did not identify the members who they said harassed them, but said at least two of them are still serving.

“I just don’t think it would be helpful,” Sanchez said. “The problem is as a member there’s no HR department you can go to, there’s nobody you can turn to. Ultimately they’re employed by their constituents.”

Former Rep. Hilda Solis, who is now a Los Angeles County supervisor and served as Labor Secretary for the Obama administration, said she was on the receiving end of overtures from a male colleague.

“It’s humiliating, even though they may have thought they were being cute. No, it’s not. It’s not appropriate. I’m your colleague, but he doesn’t see me that way, and that’s a problem," she said.

On Friday, Democratic Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan and Washington D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton urged members of Congress and staff to require training for sexual harassment.   

"Our staff works incredibly hard each day, and they deserve to have the same protections afforded their counterparts in the private sector as well as those in federal agencies," the two wrote in a "dear colleague" letter.

Their letter comes after Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said there should be increased training for sexual harassment on Capitol Hill

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.