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Editorial: Rubio owes voters answers about staffer firing

 
FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2017, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rubio will vote for his party's $1.5 trillion tax bill. That gives a major boost to the prospects that GOP leaders will be able to push their prized measure through Congress next week. The Florida lawmaker had said he'd oppose the legislation unless his colleagues made the per child tax credit more generous for low-income families. On Dec. 15, Republicans said the final legislation would do just that. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) WX146
FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2017, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rubio will vote for his party's $1.5 trillion tax bill. That gives a major boost to the prospects that GOP leaders will be able to push their prized measure through Congress next week. The Florida lawmaker had said he'd oppose the legislation unless his colleagues made the per child tax credit more generous for low-income families. On Dec. 15, Republicans said the final legislation would do just that. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) WX146
Published Jan. 30, 2018

Sen. Marco Rubio has some explaining to do. He suddenly flew to Washington on Saturday night and fired his chief of staff for violating "policies regarding proper relations between a supervisor and their subordinates'' but refuses to provide more information. This is a public office, and Florida voters deserve more answers.

Without mentioning his name, Rubio announced shortly before midnight Saturday that he had fired his chief of staff, Clint Reed. The four-paragraph statement offered no specifics and made clear none would be forthcoming. But Reed is no obscure staffer. He was Rubio's top staffer in his Senate office over the last year, managed Rubio's presidential campaign in Iowa and Florida, and oversaw his re-election campaign. Reed's status is more than enough reason for voters to know more about what exactly was going on in the office of one of their U.S. senators.

RELATED: Rubio fires his chief of staff over 'improper conduct'

There are signs it wasn't good. Rubio apparently learned of Reed's conduct Friday afternoon and said in the statement "these allegations were reported directly to me.'' He said he began an investigation with his general counsel. By Saturday afternoon, Rubio wrote, he had "sufficient evidence to conclude" Reed had violated office policies and "this led to actions which in my judgment amounted to threats to withhold employment benefits.''

What exactly does that mean? How many people were affected, since Rubio wrote about "those impacted by this conduct" will have access to services? Who knew about the behavior, and who kept it quiet? How can voters be sure at this point Rubio did not previously know about it? Rubio won't answer, and he lashed out at reporters who asked questions.

That is simply not good enough. If Rubio hasn't noticed, the nation is engaged in a deep conversation about sexual harassment, sexual assault and the exploitation of women in all sorts of work environments. Congress is no exception. Members of Congress such as former Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and former Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, both Democrats, have resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. Two Republican House members who settled sexual harassment claims against them with public money have announced they will not seek re-election. At the State of the Union address tonight, some women members of Congress plan to dress in black and bring survivors of harassment as guests to focus even more attention on the issue.

Of course, it's more likely that Rubio is keenly aware of the #MeToo movement and moved remarkably quickly to reach an abrupt decision and limit the damage. His statement did not mention sexual harassment, but it said his office planned to inform the appropriate congressional offices on Monday and make sure his staffers had "access to any services they might require now or in the future."

Congress has a bad record of dealing openly with sexual harassment. News reports indicate the House secretly paid $115,000 to settle three sexual harassment claims between 2008 and 2012, bringing to $199,000 the total amount known to have been paid from a fund controlled by Congress' secretive Office of Compliance since 2008 to settle four claims. There is far too much confidentiality. A 1995 law requires harassment complaints against members to be handled in secret. That makes it nearly impossible to hold members accountable, or even to account for how much public money is being used to pay off victims.

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Rubio should provide more information about why he acted so quickly to fire his chief of staff and details regarding the accusations so voters can determine for themselves the severity of the situation and whether the senator reacted appropriately. He insists he is protecting his staffers, but his abrupt action over the weekend and lack of candor indicates he also is focused on protecting himself from any fallout.