WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, labeling the sexual harassment charges against Oregon Republican Sen. Bob Packwood "serious," yesterday became the first of his colleagues to call for an investigation by the ethics committee.
"The allegations made against Senator Packwood are serious," the Maryland Democrat said in a statement. "They should be and must be dealt with seriously and promptly through the ethics committee's procedures."
The Oregon senator, re-elected three weeks ago to a fifth term, has been accused by 10 women of making sexual advances toward them beginning in 1969 and continuing until the early 1980s.
Four of the women repeated the charges in newspaper and TV interviews. Mr. Packwood, who has denied the allegations, first reported Sunday by the Washington Post, was vacationing and could not be reached for comment.
Ms. Mikulski, who was unavailable for further comment, joins women's rights groups and Oregon Democrats who are calling upon the committee to look into the charges. The committee spokesman was unavailable last night. Another ethics committee staff member said there would be no comment.
Under the committee's procedures, once it receives a complaint against a member the six-member panel -- or its chairman and vice chairman -- would decide whether to mount a preliminary inquiry. Such an inquiry would determine whether there is evidence to begin an investigation. At the conclusion of an investigation, should the committee find wrongdoing, it can recommend disciplinary action to the full Senate, ranging from reprimand to expulsion.
The charges come during the "Year of the Woman," when an unprecedented four women were elected to the Senate to join Ms. Mikulski and GOP Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas.
Mrs. Kassebaum was traveling in Kansas, and her press spokesman, Mike Horak, said he was uncertain whether she would issue a statement reacting to the charges against Mr. Packwood.
Two of the newly elected women senators, Democrats Patty Murray of Washington and Dianne Feinstein of California, responded to the allegations against Senator Packwood by urging that Congress pass reforms regarding sexual harassment.
"Title VII of the The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which has been widely interpreted as the law preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, does not apply to Congress," Ms. Feinstein said in a statement, although it did not mention the Oregon senator.
"That has simply got to change. We will draft legislation to prevent any loopholes that exclude federal officials."
Ms. Feinstein said that while the spotlight has been on sexual harassment since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, "we are far from the point when this insulting behavior is behind us." It was those explosive televised hearings that spurred many women to run for office this year.
Ms. Mikulski was critical last year of some of her colleagues on the Judiciary Committee for suggesting that Ms. Hill fantasized the allegations of harassment against Judge Thomas. "What we saw was not a hearing but an inquisition . . . and senators who rushed into he role of inquisitors," she said.
Mr. Packwood is the fourth senator to be accused of sexual misconduct this year. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, was accused by his hair stylist of forcing her to have sex 17 years ago. He denies it.
Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., faces a paternity suit filed by a woman who claims he raped her 30 years ago. He says she consented to have sex with him. Sen. Brock Adams, D-Wash., was accused in a Seattle Times article of molesting eight women. He did not run for re-election.