During an MSNBC town hall on Monday, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg questioned whether former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) should have been pushed to resign over accusations of inappropriate touching and sexual misconduct.
"I think it was his decision to make, but I think the way we basically held him to a higher standard than the GOP does their people has been used against us," Buttigieg told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. He was subsequently pressed as to whether Franken’s colleagues should have applied the pressure they did for his ousting and Buttigieg responded: "I would not have applied that pressure at that time before we knew more."
The comment pitted the South Bend mayor against several of his competitors in the Democratic primary who publicly called for Franken's resignation back at the end of 2017, chief among them Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) who was the first to call on Franken to resign. They also came after Buttigieg fundraised with a Democratic donor who explicitly reprimanded party lawmakers for forcing Franken's departure and said she’d reconsider giving a dime to anyone who she believed was involved in that effort.
The donor in question, Susie Tompkins Buell, sent out fundraising invitations for Buttigieg in April of this year and reportedly held a San Francisco event for him. Buell, a prominent Democratic donor who had backed Gillibrand, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and other women in the party, said in early 2018 that she was considering withdrawing support from senators who had called for Franken’s resignation.
“For me this is dangerous and wrong,” she told The New York Times. “I am a big believer in helping more women into the political system but this has given me an opportunity to rethink of how I can best help my party.”
Regarding Gilibrand, Buell said at the time: “I believe she miscalculated and has shot herself in the foot. I have supported her for many years. Will I going forward? To be determined.”
Despite her protestations, Buell did subsequently announce her support for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), another 2020 candidate who called for Franken to resign. She also wrote Harris’ campaign a $2,700 check—the only donation she’s made to a presidential candidate this cycle and said she planned to raise money for her.
By Monday evening, Gillibrand was weighing in on the matter, putting out a statement that noted that Franken faced "eight credible allegations of sexual harassment, two since he was elected Senator, and one from a congressional staffer.”
“That is not too high a standard, regardless of how the Republican party handles this behavior, and worse,” the statement read. “Yes, it was Senator Franken's decision alone to leave the Senate - a path he ultimately chose - but for many senators, including myself and others in this primary field, that was not too high of a bar to raise our voice and make clear we value women."
Buttigieg’s campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
Though her calls came after allegations against Franken began piling up, Gillibrand has faced criticism within the party over her decision to push for the former senator to leave office. And it hasn’t just been from Tompkins Buell. As the Huffington Post reported, other donors have pledged not to support her, including George Soros, who accused her of going after Franken to “improve her chances” for president.