A group of Senate Democrats, led by female members, called on their colleague, Al Franken (D-MN), to resign on Wednesday just hours after news broke that he had attempted to forcibly kiss a former Democratic congressional aide in 2006.
The flood began with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) who wrote in a long Facebook post that Franken should step aside.
“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,” she wrote.
Within minutes, other women in the conference joined Gillibrand including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Kamala Harris (D-CA). Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) soon became the first male senator to join them followed by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). A request for comment from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) office was not returned.
“I’ve struggled with this decision because he’s been a good Senator and I consider him a friend,” Hirono wrote on Twitter. “But that cannot excuse his behavior and his mistreatment of women.”
The calls for Franken to leave the Senate, come weeks after the Minnesota Democrat was first accused of forcibly kissing Leeann Tweeden in 2008. Tweeden also produced a photograph of Franken with his hands on her bulletproof vest-clad chest.
Franken, who was rumored as a potential presidential candidate in 2020, has since been accused of groping numerous other women during photo ops. He had pledged to try and earn back the trust of his constituents while remaining in the Senate, telling Minnesota Public Radio that he was “trying to handle this in a way that adds to an important conversation. And to be a better public servant and a better man. That is what my goal is.”
For a time being, Democratic leadership seemed content to give him that space. But, as a senior Democratic aide told The Daily Beast, “He ran out of space for people to have patience.”
As the Franken scandal bubbled, Democrats found themselves in a politically delicate situation, attempting to both respect and promote the #MeToo moment and claim the moral high ground against Republicans as their members face even worse charges of sexual misconduct. While Democrats ditched Franken, Republican senators appeared to be warming up to Roy Moore, the Alabama conservative Senate candidate who stands accused of sexually preying on teenagers.
Franken is set to make an announcement on Thursday, his office said. A Senate Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to assess the situation honestly, said party members had been itching for his departure for days but were willing to give him time to try and rehabilitate his image. Wednesday’s piece in Politico, in which Franken allegedly told the aide it was his “right as an entertainer” to kiss her (a quote he denies making) was the final straw.
“This report was a bit different,” the aide said. “It looks more like predatory behavior and his excuses don’t really fly if that quote is accurate.”
Democrats in the House had already moved to clean up their own caucus. On Monday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) announced his retirement following numerous allegations of harassment. He had been the longest-serving member of the House. In addition, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has called for Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) to step down after he was accused of making repeated sexual advances toward a campaign staffer during the 2016 election.