Rep. Debbie Dingell recounted on Friday decades-old instances when a “prominent historical person” groped her and that a former senator acted inappropriately toward her.
The Michigan Democrat told CNN’s “New Day” that the person, whom she did not name, tried to put his hand up her skirt despite the fact that she was married at the time. Separately, she recounted that a senator, whom she also did not name, made unwanted advances toward her, though she didn’t provide details.
“I was in a first-year marriage so it tells you how long ago it was. Historical figure. The hand kept going up my leg. I took it off. A woman member recognized what was happening and got up from the table and said, ‘Switch places.’ You know, we watch out for each other,” Dingell recalled. “He would be aggressive, not only towards me, everybody on Capitol Hill knew it. I just happened to be one of these people. I was with a prominent historical person, and I’m not going to name who this person is.”
Female lawmakers, staff and interns have told CNN that there is a pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. Earlier this week, Reps. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, and Barbara Comstock, a Virginia Republican, accused sitting male lawmakers of sexual harassment and misconduct, including an allegation that a male lawmaker exposed his genitals to a female staffer.
Dingell said she personally has experienced “too many” stories of unwelcome advances from men during her career. While she said she’s been luckier than most, she shied away from naming any names, alluding to a pervading culture of fear.
“I’m a United States congresswoman. … I’m luckier than 99% of the women,” she said. “For too many women, those ‘Me Too’ stories are going to have consequences. Economic (ones) if you’re a waitress, if you’re on the factory floor or you’re in a small business. Where is their job?”
Dingell added: “I would still pay a price if I were to name some of them.”
The congresswoman said that, to her, there are different categories of sexual harassment.
When asked about allegations that Alabama GOP senatorial candidate Roy Moore sexually abused a 14-year-old girl decades ago, Dingell said, “I think teenage girls is something that I find disgusting. I just — I can’t tell you what that does to me.” Moore has denied the accusations.
She continued, “It puts it in a very different category for me. There are a lot of men on Capitol Hill, there are a lot of men throughout the country that have been inappropriate in their jokes and hopefully you’re going to stop and will start thinking about it.”
Dingell said that while “none of these things are OK,” she believes transparency will help the issue, saying that she knows that “people are trying to get the facts” about sexual harassment and discrimination payouts that have occurred. On Thursday, the Office of Compliance released additional information indicating that it has paid victims more than $17 million since its creation in the 1990s. That includes all settlements, not just related to sexual harassment, but also discrimination and other cases.
Dingell’s comments come a day after the Democratic Party was rocked by the news that Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken groped a woman without her consent during an overseas USO tour in 2006, two years before Franken was elected to the Senate. The revelations prompted Franken to apologize and ignited calls for a Senate ethics investigation into his behavior.