Women Senators Say #MeToo, Reveal Stories of Sexual Harassment on Meet the Press

Chuck Todd: Welcome back. The Harvey Weinstein story has brought to light the ugliness, the humiliation, and perhaps most of all the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. Many of us, men mostly, were not aware or chose not to be aware of how common this kind of behavior apparently is. So we decided to do something different here on Meet the Press. This week we asked every female member of the United States Senate, all 21, if they had stories that they wanted to share about sexual harassment.

Four senators, all Democrats, said yes. And told us of experiences early in their careers. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Here now are their stories.

Senator Elizabeth Warren:
He's chasing me around the desk, trying to get his hands on me.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp:
He pretty much put his finger in my face and he said, "Men will always beat their wives and you can't stop ‘em."

Senator Claire McCaskill:
And he said, “Well, did you bring your knee pads?”

Senator Mazie Hirono:
We need to put a stop to this.

THEIR STORIES:

Senator Warren:
Yes, I have a "me, too" story too. I was a baby law professor and so excited to have my first real teaching job. And there was this senior faculty member who, you know, would tell dirty jokes and make comments about my appearance.

And one day he asked me if I would stop by his office, which I didn't think much about. And I did. And he slammed the door and lunged for me. It was like a bad cartoon. He's chasing me around the desk, trying to get his hands on me.

And I kept saying, "You don't want to do this. You don't want to do this. I have little children at home. Please don't do this." And trying to talk calmly. And at the same time, what was flickering through my brain is, "If he gets hold of me, I'm going to punch him right in the face."

Senator McCaskill:
I was a very young state legislator and in my 20s and I was single. And I was nervous about getting my first bill out of committee. So I cautiously approached the very powerful speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives. Did he have any advice for me on how I could get it out of committee?

And he looked at me and he paused and he said, "Well, did you bring your knee pads?"

Senator Hirono:
I've been propositioned by teachers, by my colleagues, and you know, you name it.

Senator Heitkamp:
When I started out as North Dakota's attorney general, one of the most significant things I wanted to do was I wanted to change the dynamic of domestic violence. And I had an event when I was speaking and a law enforcement official came up to me and he pretty much put his finger in my face and he said, "Listen here, men will always beat their wives and you can't stop ‘em."

Senator Warren:
After several rounds, I jumped for the door and got out. And I went back to my office and I just sat and shook. And thought, "What had I done to bring this on?" And I told my best friend about it. Never said a word to anyone else. But for a long time, I wore a lot of brown.

Senator McCaskill:
And then he said, “Well, did you bring your knee pads?” I do think he was joking. But it was shocking that he would make that joke to a colleague, even a very young colleague.

Senator Heitkamp:
And I think I was so stunned, because I thought, "Well, everybody's going to care about this the way I do. Everybody's going to think about this the way I do." And I looked at him and I said, "You know, you might be right. I hope you're not right. But we shouldn't live in a world where we don't try."

SPEAKING OUT:

Senator Heitkamp:
My initial reaction was isn't it a shame that it took something as horrific as this kind of event to make people feel strong enough to actually speak up. And that the voices of all these women are so much stronger and louder together.

Senator McCaskill:
You know, I wish I could say that I was surprised. But knowing my life and what happened to me early in my career, it wasn't shocking to me. And I understand why so many people keep things like that to themselves.

Senator Hirono:
Statements that are made, observations about our appearance, these kinds of unwanted attention occurs in a situation where there is an uneven power. And it's usually the woman who has less power.

Senator Warren:
What it means now that so many people have spoken out, is it's a way to say, "We're here for each other." And it's also a way to say, "No. It's not about what you did. He's the one who stepped out of line. And this is on him."

GOING FORWARD:

Senator Heitkamp:
We all need to be part of the solution. But I think we have to achieve something within our families and within our children to say, "It's not acceptable." If you're raising daughters, to say, "Look, you may not think it's ever going to happen to you. In all likelihood, it will." And we should be raising sons to say, "I will never do this. I will behave differently."

Senator Hirono:
Usually it’s the males who are doing this to women. They should know that this is not appreciated. And it's not cute. It's not fun.

Senator Heitkamp:
The first thing that I say is you're not alone. And the other thing I would say is if you feel diminished, that probably was the intent. And so don't think you're overreacting.

Senator Heitkamp:
We have to stick together, but it can't just be a movement of women. It has to be a cultural movement.

Senator McCaskill: To young women on campuses who have been sexually assaulted and who are worried that oh, they shouldn't have been with that guy, or they shouldn't have had anything to drink, or they shouldn't have been at that party, or they should've gone home with their friends, remember that does not excuse criminal conduct. You don't have to have perfect judgment to be a victim of a crime.

Todd: Those were senators Elizabeth Warren, Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, and Mazie Hirono. We'll be back in a moment to talk about how this conversation about sexual harassment and assault will continue to echo in the days and weeks ahead.