Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California has called on her colleagues to wear black as a protest against sexual harassment and assault during U.S. President Donald Trump’s upcoming State of the Union address. Speier, who previously disclosed that she was assaulted while working as a staffer on Capitol Hill, has spearheaded efforts to make it easier to report sexual abuse in the House.
On Jan. 30, Trump will deliver his first State of the Union before a joint session of Congress. Speier announced that she planned to wear black during the speech to show solidarity with victims of sexual abuse.
“This is a culture that is sweeping the country, and Congress is embracing it,” Speier told NBC News of the ongoing national discussion about sexual assault and harassment.
Speier’s demonstration is paired with a plan by Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida to encourage lawmakers to invite victims of sexual assault as their guests to the State of the Union.
Several Democratic lawmakers who requested anonymity asserted that they would not invite the women who have accused Trump of misconduct in order to avoid the optics of partisanship. The move would have mirrored Trump’s decision to invite several women who had accused former President Bill Clinton of misconduct to a 2016 debate against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Frankel reportedly floated holding mock hearings with Trump’s accusers during a meeting with the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on Jan. 9. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi shot the idea down.
During the 2016 presidential race, at least 15 women accused Trump of sexual misconduct. The controversy was compounded by the leaking of a 2005 audiotape featuring Trump bragging about kissing and groping women without consent. The president has denied any allegations of misconduct.
In December 2017, an SSRS-CNN survey found that 61 percent of registered voters said that the allegations against Trump were mostly true. The data indicated a partisan split on the issue, with 89 percent of Democrats believing the accusations and only 18 percent of Republicans agreeing, according to CNN.
That same month, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated that the Trump administration considered the allegations a settled issue following the 2016 election.
“The president addressed the comments back during the campaign,” Sanders said. “We feel strongly that the people of the country also addressed that when they elected Donald Trump president.”
On Jan. 10, Speier indicated on social media that she wanted members of Congress to wear black to Trump’s State of the Union to support all sexual abuse victims.
“My colleagues and I in the [Democratic Women’s Working Group] are calling on our fellow MoCs – women & men, Democrats & Republicans – to wear black to this year’s #SOTU in solidarity w/survivors of sexual harassment/violence in Hollywood, politics, the military, academia, etc.,” Speier tweeted out.
Following an array of sexual misconduct allegations that rocked Hollywood in late 2017, several members of Congress have been hit with accusations. Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, and GOP Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona all resigned amid allegations of misconduct, while two other lawmakers announced that they would not seek reelection after facing accusations.
In October 2017, Speier revealed in a video that she had been sexually assaulted by an congressional senior aide when she worked as a staffer early in her career. The Democratic lawmaker has introduced legislation to reform the congressional Office of Compliance to make it easier for House staffers to successfully report sexual assault or harassment without fear of reprisal.
“The system that exists now is really a system that protects a harasser,” Speier told Time in November 2017. “It makes Congress an enabler, actually, for bad behavior.”
Sources: CNN (2), Jackie Speier/Twitter, NBC News, Time / Featured Image: U.S. Department of Labor/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, U.S. Congress/Wikimedia Commons