WASHINGTON (AP) — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken said Thursday he will resign from Congress in coming weeks following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations and a collapse of support from his Democratic colleagues, a swift political fall for a once-rising Democratic star.
“I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice,” Franken said in the otherwise-hushed Senate chamber.
Franken quit just a day after new allegations brought the number of women alleging misconduct by him to at least eight. Wednesday morning, one woman said he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006, an accusation he vehemently denied. Hours later, another woman said Franken inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her in 2009.
“I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonor on this institution,” Franken declared Thursday.
Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” had originally sought to remain in the Senate and cooperate with an ethics investigation, saying he would work to regain the trust of Minnesotans.
“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” Franken said Thursday. “Others I remember quite differently.” Still, he said he could not both cooperate with an investigation and fully carry out his duties to his constituents.
A majority of Senate Democrats called for Minnesota Senator Al Franken to resign as allegations of sexual misconduct against the Minnesota lawmaker multiplied. Meanwhile, Senators were split on the Alabama Senate campaign of Roy Moore. (Dec. 6)
Franken had gained respect as a serious lawmaker in recent years and has even been mentioned in talk about the 2020 presidential campaign.
His resignation means Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat, will name a temporary replacement. The winner of a special election in November would serve through the end of Franken’s term in January of 2021. Among the possibilities is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a trusted ally.
“Enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York declared on Wednesday. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”
A torrent of Democrats quickly followed Gillibrand.
“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”
Franken has acknowledged and apologized for some inappropriate behavior, but he strongly denies the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.
The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that she ducked to avoid his lips but Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
Franken said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”
The pressure on him to leave mounted this week after Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned following numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. Rep Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., faces pressure to resign as well over allegations reported by Buzzfeed that he repeatedly propositioned a former campaign worker.
While Franken is departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore could be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused the 70-year-old Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.
The allegations against Franken began in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.
Other allegations followed, including a woman who says Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton issued the following statement on Franken's announcement:
“I extend my deepest regrets to the women, who have had to endure their unwanted experiences with Senator Franken. As a personal friend, my heart also goes out to Al and his family during this difficult time.
“In other respects, Al Franken has been an outstanding Senator. He has been, as Senator Paul Wellstone used to say, ‘A Senator from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.’ He is very smart, very hard-working, and very committed to Minnesota. I wish him well in his future endeavors.
“Events have unfolded quickly; thus, I have not yet decided on my appointment to fill this upcoming vacancy. I expect to make and announce my decision in the next couple of days.
“I will have no further comments on this subject until that time.”
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar issued this statement:
“Today Senator Franken acknowledged that he could no longer serve in the Senate and resigned. As he and I discussed yesterday, this is the right decision. Senator Franken has worked for years on behalf of the people of Minnesota and he has been a leader on issues that are fundamental to Americans’ lives, including education, privacy, healthcare and mental health. He has been a friend to me and to many in our state.
“As the women who have come forward to tell their stories across America have made clear, sexual harassment is never acceptable. In every workplace in America, including the U.S. Senate, we must confront the challenges of harassment and misconduct. Nothing is easy or pleasant about this, but we all must recognize that our workplace cultures—and the way we treat each other as human beings—must change.
“For Franni, the Franken family, Senator Franken’s friends and supporters in our state, it’s a very tough day. I want you to know I remain as committed as ever to working together and standing up for people, for common decency, and for our democracy during an incredibly difficult and divisive time in our country. And as we go forward together, we must never forget the words of Senator Paul Wellstone, whom Senator Franken quoted in part today, ‘Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.’”
Ken Martin, Chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, made this statement:
“Senator Franken made the right decision today. He has been a tireless and strong progressive leader on behalf of Minnesotans in Washington, but that in no way excuses his behavior toward the women who came forward. His resignation today is an important part of the healing process.”
“While sexual harassment and assault are dominating headlines recently, they have dominated the lives of women in our country for far too long. This much-overdue reckoning will not be easy—in fact, people will be angry, shocked, and saddened, as some remember personal experiences similar to those being shared in the news.”
“But the strength of this movement is the power of once-silent voices being heard loud and clear. And it's our duty—as Democrats, as political leaders, and as Americans—to hold those in power accountable for their actions.”
U.S. Representative Tim Walz released this statement:
“Like many Minnesotans, I have been deeply disappointed by the serious allegations against Senator Franken. I have served with Senator Franken for eight years in the U.S. Congress and he has accomplished a lot of good for Minnesotans. But I believe the pattern of his behavior is unacceptable and his ability to continue to effectively serve Minnesotans has been irreparably compromised. For the good of Minnesotans and the American people, I believe Senator Franken has made the right decision in stepping aside.”