The Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices was established in 1991 to investigate claims of discrimination, including sexual harassment, arising from the Senate. Some Senators opposed the creation of this office. The opposition was bipartisan. It included Republicans, led by Warren Rudman, as well as Democrats, including Joe Biden.
Prior to the creation of this office, Congress was exempt from laws banning employment discrimination. Charles Grassley introduced an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1991 that would remedy this ridiculous state of affairs.
The amendment provided “procedures to protect the right of Senate and other government employees. . .to be free from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.” Among the procedures provided was the creation of an office to handle discrimination complaints.
According to this report in the Washington Free Beacon, opponents of applying civil rights laws to the Senate tried to block Grassley’s amendment through procedural maneuvering. Rudman raised a point of order aimed at declaring the amendment unconstitutional and striking it from the proposed Civil Rights Act.
Biden voted in favor of Rudman’s maneuver. However, it failed by a 76-22 vote.
Rudman then launched a second attempt to derail the creation of the office by introducing an amendment that required senators to pay settlements out of their own pockets. When Grassley and his allies attempted to table the amendment, Biden again voted with Rudman.
There is no serious constitutional argument against applying civil rights laws to Congress and creating an office to handle discrimination claims. Rudman’s real argument against doing so was that the office would become a “Son of Frankenstein” and that “everyone here will be in jeopardy.”
This must also have been Biden’s rationale for opposing Grassley’s amendment. His opposition doesn’t mean that Biden was engaging in sexual misconduct or thought that he might do so in the future (his alleged sexual assault on Tara Reade occurred two years later). It does suggest, though it doesn’t show, that he feared being accused of sexual harassment — the way Clarence Thomas had just been accused in hearings over which Biden presided.
I believe the main thing going on here was a desire to protect the seigneurial rights of Senators. The desire to uphold those rights doesn’t imply the desire of a particular Senator to exercise them in a sexual sense. It does imply an unhealthy attitude about the power of Senators and what they should be able to get away with.
If extending to Senate employees the law’s protection from sexual harassment creates “Son of Frankenstein,” then passing such laws and applying them to the rest of America creates Frankenstein himself. Rudman and Biden had no problem with holding American males at-large accountable for sexual misconduct at the workplace. They just viewed themselves as above the law.
And why not? Biden had been receiving passes for misconduct and mediocrity for years, and has been receiving them for decades since.
It’s ironic, though, that nearly 30 years after the creation of an office he opposed, Biden now asks that office to search for a complaint that may have been lodged against him.
What’s more ironic is that the office is barred, as Biden must know, from even saying whether such a complaint exists. A Senate resolution enacted that bar, which extends for a period of 50 years after a complaint is made.
Think of that resolution, passed in 1980, as Warren Rudman’s revenge. And Joe Biden’s.