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GOP Congresswoman On Sexual Assault

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It has been a breathtaking week on Capitol Hill. Three members of Congress, Democrats Al Franken and John Conyers and Republican Trent Franks, said they would leave their jobs in the wake of sexual harassment allegations. Republican Representative Blake Farenthold meanwhile is under fire for using $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a harassment claim, a practice that does not sit well with his fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn. She is sponsoring a bill that would put an end to the fund that Farenthold used.

And she joins us from her district in Franklin, Tenn. Congresswoman, thanks for being here.

MARSHA BLACKBURN: Good to be with you. Thank you.

KELLY: Now, you want the members who have used this fund to pay the money back. You also want their names made public. How many lawmakers are we talking? Do you know?

BLACKBURN: Well, this is one of the things that we're trying to find out. And Gregg Harper, who is chairman of the House Administration Committee, is really working overtime, I'll tell you, to try to get answers for us. What we do know is that there are 268 different claims that have been made of this fund. We know that it covers Capitol Police and Architect of the Capitol as well as Congress. And we know also that some of these claims are for injury or maybe an adverse event - asbestos...

KELLY: So not all sexual harassment.

BLACKBURN: Right.

KELLY: OK.

BLACKBURN: It could be asbestos, ADA, some of those type things. What we do know is that there are sexual harassment or hostile work environment claims that have been paid. And quite frankly, some of us think - the ones of us that have done this legislation think it is inappropriate that a member or the member's office would pay these claims on sexual harassment or hostile work environment, that that money should be paid back with interest and that we should know who has used that fund. The taxpayers deserve to know. This is all taxpayer money. It is not individual money. It is not government money. It is taxpayer money.

KELLY: Now, would doing away with the fund satisfy you, or would you call on Congressman Farenthold and others who have used it specifically to the sexual harassment claims - others who have used it to be investigated, maybe even to resign?

BLACKBURN: What we want to do first of all is just get the facts that are surrounding this and then bring some accountability and transparency to this, make certain that the money is paid back. And I think past that, then once you know who and what and why on the utilization of the fund, then that - the committee and Congress and the taxpayers can make a decision on those issues.

KELLY: Let me take a step back here. We're having this...

BLACKBURN: Sure.

KELLY: ...Conversation. Conversations are unfolding all over the country on this issue of sexual harassment right now. And it's all happening with this backdrop of the special election coming up next Tuesday in Alabama. This is an election that could elect Roy Moore, a man who's been accused of preying on teenage girls. He denies those claims. But President Trump has endorsed him. The RNC, Republican National Committee, is backing him again. If he wins, do you think, Congresswoman, that he should serve in the U.S. Senate?

BLACKBURN: First of all, whether or not he wins is going to be up to the people of Alabama. And then they will make that decision.

KELLY: But may I ask, do you find the allegations against him credible?

BLACKBURN: What I find with the allegations is that there again this is going to be something that the people of Alabama need to decide. Whenever I hear of allegations, it is something that causes me concern that there would have been that type of activity or the accusation of that activity. And whether or not it did or did not transpire, I do not know. I've not been privy to any of those conversations, and I do not know any of those details. But I think it is going to be up to the people of Alabama to make that decision.

KELLY: Well, let me come at this from a different direction. What would be your response to people who may look at recent events and say Democrats are holding fellow Democrats to account - John Conyers, Al Franken...

BLACKBURN: Right.

KELLY: Republicans - not so much.

BLACKBURN: I think Republicans have held people to account. And one of the things you can look at is the measures that we have taken - Barbara Comstock, who is a member out of northern Virginia, and the legislation that she immediately brought to the floor to change the policy and require training on sexual harassment, the legislation that Congressman DiSantis has led that I'm on, the bill that would bring that accountability and eliminate the hush fund and doing that in a bipartisan way, holding people to account. You've also got a resignation that is taking place on the Republican side of the aisle this week. I think that that is important to do.

KELLY: Lots more we could talk about. We're going to have to leave it there.

BLACKBURN: Yes, indeed.

KELLY: Congresswoman Blackburn, thank you so much for taking the time. Come talk to us again soon.

BLACKBURN: Thank you.

KELLY: Thank you. That's Marsha Blackburn, Republican congresswoman from Tennessee also running for the U.S. Senate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.