In his four years in the Senate, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has never witnessed the type of sexism detailed in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) new book. Moreover, he thinks Gillibrand should name the male Senate colleagues who she said sexually harassed her, so they can appropriately "explain themselves."
“If you’re going to throw out accusations, my guess is you’d probably ought to name names,” Johnson said Tuesday on "The Steve Malzberg Show," as quoted by BuzzFeed. “If you’re going throw out those kinds of accusations, you ought to give people a chance to explain themselves.”
According to excerpts the book published in People magazine, Gillibrand recalled multiple male colleagues making disparaging comments about her body as she struggled with her weight after having a child. "You know, Kirsten, you're even pretty when you're fat," one unidentified congressman told her in the House chamber. "Good thing you're working out, because you wouldn't want to get porky!" said another in the House gym.
In the Tuesday interview, Johnson sought to set the record straight. "It was not me" and “and I’ve never seen that kind of behavior in the United States Senate," he said.
“It’s actually a pretty collegial place. Pretty professional. I have never seen that type of behavior. That’s all I can say. That’s been my experience," he added.
“I wasn’t there, so I can’t express an opinion. I’ve just never witnessed any kind of comments like that myself,” Johnson said when asked whether he doubted Gillibrand's account.
The world’s greatest deliberative body may indeed have the collegial atmosphere its veteran members wistfully speak of during periods of particular partisan strife, but it's far from a tolerant workplace. Just listen to the women who have covered Congress for years. Dana Bash, CNN's chief congressional correspondent, said Thursday she has heard "comments that would maybe just blow you away from male senators." NBC's Andrea Mitchell agreed, recalling "stories of whom you'd not get in an elevator with and whom you'd protect your young female interns from."
Speaking of Senate elevators, there's also this disturbing 1992 anecdote about Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), relayed by the Washington Post's Karen Tumulty.
As recounted in journalist Clara Bingham’s 1997 book “Women on the Hill,” Murray found herself alone in an elevator one evening with 91-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who did not recognize her as a colleague. He inquired whether the “little lady” was married -- and then proceeded to grope her breast, Bingham wrote.
In his comments to Malzberg, Johnson also seemed to be operating from the assumption that the onus should be on Gillibrand to name names, rather than the other way around. As Talking Points Memo's Kay Steiger asked last week, "Don’t those men who said those things have a responsibility to step forward, admit what they did, and apologize?" Moreover, it's not even clear what the alleged harassers could "explain" about the comments, apart from them being horribly wrong.
For more opinions on what women on the Hill should do, here's Johnson offering a lesson on how the federal budget works to Democratic Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin in 2012. And here he is musing about Hillary Clinton's "theatrics" at a Senate hearing last year.