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Congress Passes Bill To Avoid Shutdown, For Now


And then there were three - three members of Congress who have resigned this week amid allegations of sexual harassment. First, Democratic Congressman John Conyers resigns - and then Democratic Senator Al Franken and now Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona. The Franks resignation comes after the Ethics Committee announced it was investigating complaints over conversations that he had with female staffers. The congressman reportedly asked them about acting as surrogates for him and his wife. All this, of course, as Congress moved to prevent a government shutdown. So lots to talk about with NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, who's in our studios. Hi, Kelsey.


MARTIN: First, what can you tell us about the allegations against Congressman Trent Franks? Because these are substantively different than other allegations we've heard about.

SNELL: Right. So some reporting said that Franks explicitly discussed with two female staffers the idea that they would be surrogates for his children. Other reports...

MARTIN: He and his wife having fertility problems.

SNELL: Right. Yes. And other reporting suggests that perhaps he just discussed the concept of surrogacy, which is what he says he discussed in his statement upon his resignation. He said that he clearly became insensitive to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others, which is very different. And we won't really know exactly what happened because an ethics investigation won't - typically doesn't happen once a member resigns. So the conversation about this may change or go away.

MARTIN: Because he is now stepping down.

SNELL: Right.

MARTIN: So meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee investigating another member. We're talking about Congressman Blake Farenthold, Republican of Texas. This is over complaints that resulted in a taxpayer-funded settlement over sexual harassment. What's going on there?

SNELL: Right. So the - at issue is an $84,000 taxpayer-funded settlement that was issued in December of 2014 over allegations that he sexually harassed a former aide and then fired her improperly after she reported that harassment. So there was originally an investigation, but the woman who accused him of this did not really participate because she wanted to move on, and she said that she was ready to move on with her life. But then she spoke to Politico and CNN this week, which caused the Ethics Committee to reopen that investigation. We don't know where things stand with Farenthold in terms of his plans for staying around. But House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that an ethics investigation is happening.

MARTIN: I mean, what a week on Capitol Hill because, meanwhile, there has been business at hand. Congress averted a government shutdown by passing this temporary spending bill, which essentially means they're kicking the can down the road for a couple of weeks before they have to come up with a permanent deal. Democrats and Republicans met at the White House yesterday with the president. And President Trump sounded fairly optimistic. Let's listen.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're all here as a very friendly, well-unified group. It's a well-knit-together group of people. And we hope that we're going to make some great progress for our country. I think that will happen.

MARTIN: Well-knit group of people, Kelsey.

SNELL: Yeah. So he was very upbeat when the meeting started. At the end, Democrats said it was a good meeting, that there were good discussions had. But they didn't actually reach an agreement. And they only have two weeks. So over the next couple of weeks, Republicans and Democrats will have to agree on increasing spending, whether or not they're going to do that at all and some broader issues about immigration and Children's Health Insurance Program. It's a long list.

MARTIN: Propping up the Affordable Care insurance markets - all kinds of things still at play.

SNELL: All kinds of fun (laughter).

MARTIN: NPR's Kelsey Snell - she covers Congress. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.

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