Farenthold's Challenges May Go Beyond Lawsuit
U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold's office is facing a lawsuit in which a former staffer has alleged sexual harassment. A Farenthold spokesman has denied the accusations, but operatives are mulling what could happen to the congressman on Capitol Hill.
*Editor's note: This story has been updated.
A Capitol Hill staffer's sexual harassment lawsuit against the office of U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, is not just a legal problem for the second-term congressman — it's shaping up to be a serious political problem as well.
Lauren Greene, Farenthold's former communications director, alleges “gender discrimination and creating a hostile work environment” and a wrongful termination in her suit against Farenthold, as first reported by National Law Journal. A spokesman for Farenthold categorically denied the allegations.
The unseemly nature of the accusations already has operatives on Capitol Hill mulling the immediate consequences of Farenthold's place on the Republican food chain.
“I don’t know about locally, but it’s going to continue to push him on the outside of leadership and the folks that influence the Republican Conference,” a GOP Capitol Hill staffer said on condition of anonymity because of close ties to leadership.
Two GOP Capitol Hill staffers predicted the matter would probably go before the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics. Just last week, the House Ethics Committee cleared a Florida Democratic lawmaker of sexual harassment allegations. But in the process, the committee warned lawmakers "to scrupulously avoid even the impression of a workplace tainted by sexism.”
Reporters and Democrats pounced on Farenthold earlier in the week, when Roll Call reported that Farenthold registered the domain name “Blow-me.org” in 1999.
But the lawsuit — which was reported a day later — is being received on Capitol Hill as a serious matter.
Greene's lawsuit alleges a series of gratuitous incidents that occurred in the office, including Farenthold making "comments designed to gauge whether [Greene] was interested in a sexual relationship."
“As is the case with any pending legal situation, the Congressman cannot comment on the specifics of the complaint, however, it goes without saying that both the Congressman and the members of his staff who are included in this complaint have a very different view of the allegations than Ms. Greene,” Farenthold spokesman Kurt Bardella said in a statement.
“For the record, the Office did not and does not discriminate based on sex or any other unlawful factor,” Bardella added. “The Congressman is eager to respond to Ms. Greene's allegations through the appropriate legal process and is confident that once all of the facts are revealed, he will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”
Bardella, a prominent Capitol Hill operative who has a private communications firm, does not work for Farenthold's office. The congressman retained Bardella last month.
So far, Farenthold's GOP colleagues are remaining publicly quiet on the matter.
Farenthold was first elected in 2010, unseating Democrat Solomon P. Ortiz in a surprising upset.
After his election, the Republican-controlled state Legislature redrew the state's congressional district map, making the seat safer for Farenthold.
His hometown of Corpus Christi is the population base of the seat. He had no primary challenger this cycle and won a third term in November by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
As Texas Republican operatives digest the reports, some are already speculating on a potential 2016 primary challenger. One potential rival would be Debra Medina, a former Wharton County Republican Party chairwoman who lost a primary bid for comptroller this year.
In a tweet, Medina suggested such talk was presumptuous. "Remember innocent until proven guilty though even the accusation taints the office," she said.
But at the very least, the lawsuit is not welcomed news to a U.S. House Republican Conference that spent much energy and capital rebuilding its image with female voters in recent years.
Morgan Smith contributed to this report.
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