Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced his resignation on Thursday following multiple accusations of sexual harassment spanning back more than a decade.
"I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a Senator—nothing—has brought dishonor on this institution," Franken said on the Senate floor. "And I am confident that the [Senate] Ethics Committee would agree. Nevertheless, today I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate."
Though he had pledged to ride out the scandal and earn back the trust of his constituents—and insisted in his speech that some of the accusations were untrue or exaggerated—Franken's position in the chamber proved to be increasingly untenable as more accusers came forward. On Wednesday, Franken’s Democratic colleagues, led predominantly by female members, finally had enough, coming out and calling for him to leave the Senate.
“I have been shocked and disappointed to learn over the last few weeks that a colleague I am fond of personally has engaged in behavior towards women that is unacceptable,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote on Facebook. “While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve.”
Franken’s resignation represents a remarkable fall for a Senator who was buzzed about as a potential presidential candidate. The Senate Ethics Committee opened an investigation into his actions last month after radio host Leeann Tweeden said the Minnesota senator groped her and forcibly kissed her during a United Service Organization tour in 2006.
The vacancy opens up yet another battlefield for Democrats in the critical midterm elections.
While Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, will appoint a replacement for Franken, that individual will be up for reelection in 2018 as dictated by Minnesota state law. Though the landscape looks favorable for Democrats, the party will likely be forced to spend campaign funds to retain the seat.
It wasn't entirely clear that Franken would resign up until his floor speech. As his colleagues called for his resignation on Wednesday, the Minnesota Democrat huddled with his wife and with Schumer at Schumer’s apartment in Washington D.C. The Minority Leader encouraged him to find as graceful an exit from the Senate as possible. But the three left the conversation with no commitment for a resignation.
Clearly stunned by how he had ended up in his predicament, Franken insisted on Thursday that his reputation had been sullied even as he acknowledged that his actions had offended and hurt others.
"I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last couple weeks," he explained. "But I know who I am."
As Franken announced his resignation, he also noted that Republicans were handling their own issues of sexual harassment in a far different manner. National GOPers have quietly spent the last few days coalescing around Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore who is accused of sexually preying on teenage girls when he was in his 30s. The RNC, this week, announced that it would be spending money on his campaign while President Donald Trump, himself accused of serial sexual harassment, has endorsed Moore’s candidacy.
"I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony about the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly prayed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party," Franken said.