Any time there are allegations of sexual harassment against a person in a position of authority, it’s a story that deserves to be taken seriously, but given the broader context, the New York Times’ report on Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) is especially important.
Representative Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making unwanted romantic overtures to her, according to several people familiar with the settlement.
A married father of three, Mr. Meehan, 62, had long expressed interest in the personal life of the aide, who was decades younger and had regarded the congressman as a father figure, according to three people who worked with the office and four others with whom she discussed her tenure there.
But after the woman became involved in a serious relationship with someone outside the office last year, Mr. Meehan professed his romantic desires for her – first in person, and then in a handwritten letter – and he grew hostile when she did not reciprocate, the people familiar with her time in the office said.
According to the Times’ reporting, the woman found it necessary to begin working from home, before ultimately quitting. She initiated the complaint process with the congressional Office of Compliance and received a settlement from the Pennsylvania Republican’s congressional office fund.
Meehan’s office denies the allegations, but when the Times asked why the lawmaker agreed to the settlement and the confidentiality provision if the allegations were false, the congressman’s spokesperson did not respond.
As NBC News reported over the weekend, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) responded to the report by removing Meehan from the 10-member Ethics Committee, which will now take the lead in examining the allegations.
Ryan also reportedly urged Meehan to repay taxpayers for the money used in the settlement.
In cases like these, what always matters most is the impact on the people involved, but what makes the Meehan story especially important is the fact that he’s taken the lead among congressional Republicans on addressing sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.
Indeed, in his capacity as an Ethics Committee member, Meehan has helped oversee investigations into some of his colleagues who’ve faced similar allegations, despite his own related controversy.
What’s more, Meehan, whose district includes Philadelphia suburbs, represents one of the most competitive congressional districts in the country. If this story affects his political standing, as appears likely, it may have an impact on Congress’ makeup after the midterm elections.