Democrats scrambled to contain the fallout on Thursday after sexual assault allegations against Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenFranken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — GOP lawmakers race to find an immigration fix Richard Painter puts out 'dumpster fire' in first campaign ad MORE (D-Minn.) shook the Capitol.

Senators quickly went into damage control mode after a reporter accused Franken of kissing and groping her without her consent during a USO tour in 2006. She released a photo of the then-comedian’s hands on her breasts while she was apparently asleep.

The allegations turned the tables in the Senate, where Republicans had been facing a daily barrage of questions about Roy Moore, the GOP Senate candidate in Alabama who is facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls.

Several Democratic senators distanced themselves from Franken, who had been considered a potential dark horse for the party’s presidential nomination in 2020.

“Sexual harassment and groping are never OK and never funny. … Senator Franken has begun addressing these issues by calling for an ethics investigation and saying he’s going to cooperate,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said while declining to comment further because of the ethics probe.

Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems launch pressure campaign over migrant families Kavanaugh paper chase heats up Senate Dems tell Trump: Don't meet with Putin one-on-one MORE (D-Ill.) said Franken’s behavior was “wrong,” while Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race Green Day's 'American Idiot' climbs UK charts ahead of Trump visit MORE (D-Va.) called it “unacceptable.”

“What I saw was horrible. ... We got to make it clear that this is not humor. This is about power issues, gender issues,” Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate passes resolution honoring victims of Capital Gazette shooting Biden rallies Dem support for progressive Md. governor candidate Dem lawmakers join nationwide protests against Trump immigration policies MORE (D-Md.) said.

Leeann Tweeden, a radio anchor for Los Angeles’s KABC, wrote on Thursday that Franken crafted a skit involving Tweeden during the trip that included a kissing scene. She said Franken pressured her into practicing the routine and then aggressively kissed her despite her objections.

“I felt disgusted and violated,” she wrote. “I tried to let it go, but I was angry.”

Franken is the latest high-profile figure to face harassment allegations, with current and former female staffers increasingly emboldened to go public with the treatment they’ve received on Capitol Hill.

Four in 10 female staffers who responded to a Roll Call survey earlier this year said they believed Capitol Hill had a sexual harassment problem, while 1 in 6 said they had experienced it personally.

And the Senate, in response to pressure from both parties, passed a resolution late last week that made its anti-sexual harassment training mandatory for senators and staff.

The allegations against Franken initially appeared to catch Democratic senators flat-footed, with several declining to weigh in or noting they had just read stories about the incident as they made their way toward the Senate chamber.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperNew EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Overnight Energy: New EPA head looks to reassure staff | New round of ex-Pruitt staffers leave | House votes to overhaul fisheries law | Trump rips Germany for pipeline deal with Russia Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE (D-Del.), who later released a statement condemning Franken’s behavior, noted that he couldn’t talk because he needed to vote and “I don’t like to miss votes.” 

Democratic Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Female lawmakers, candidates must be the voice for women worldwide GOP lawmakers plan official visit to Russia later this week MORE (N.H.), Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDems rip Trump DOJ nominee who represented Russian bank The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Expensive and brutal: Inside the Supreme Court fight ahead Dem senator: No argument will 'lay bare' GOP's hypocrisy on Supreme Court MORE (Hawaii) and Chrisotpher Coons (Del.) said they couldn't comment because they are members of the Ethics Committee. 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders: Trump should confront Putin over Mueller probe indictments Midterms will show voters are tired of taking back seat to Wall Street McConnell: I won't be intimidated by protesters MORE (D-Mass.), who frequently ignores reporters around Capitol Hill, avoided questions, while Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellPoll: Majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Protests and anger: Washington in turmoil as elections near Dem senator says Supreme Court vote could be 'career ending' for lawmakers MORE (D-Wash.) remained silent as reporters asked her about Franken as well as drilling in the arctic. 

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (D-W.Va.) appeared flabbergasted as he spoke to a swarm of reporters, repeatedly saying that he wanted to speak with Franken.

“I just heard. I just heard, and … I would like to hear from Al,” he said. “I just want to hear from Al. I just want to hear Al’s explanation.”

Franken kept a low profile throughout the day, skipping the Senate’s four votes and a closed-door Democratic caucus lunch.

A spokesman for Franken didn’t respond to a request for comment about his schedule, but sources told CNN that the senator apologized to his staff on Thursday.

The senator initially released a brief statement saying that he didn’t "remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. ... As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

But that appeared to frustrate some of his colleagues, who were quick to say they believed Franken’s accuser.

“They are deeply concerning, and I expect to hear more from Sen. Franken,” Gillibrand told reporters during her press conference on military sexual assault.

She added separately that she did not believe Franken’s initial apology was sufficient.

Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthLawmakers press Trump admin for list of migrant kids separated from families The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Protests and anger: Washington in turmoil as elections near Ocasio-Cortez responds to Dem senator who said policies 'too far to the left' don't win in Midwest MORE (D-Ill.), asked if she thought Franken’s accuser was credible, added, “I tend to believe her.”

“I think that women should be able to feel safe and free in their workplace, and if that there are such allegations they should come forward,” she added, asked if she was worried about additional allegations against Franken.

The Minnesota senator released a longer apology on Thursday afternoon and said he would cooperate with an ethics investigation.

“I respect women. I don't respect men who don't. And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed,” Franken said in his second statement.

But Democrats were quick to get out ahead of Franken, coalescing behind an ethics investigation after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Ky.) publicly urged the committee to review the matter.

“I hope and expect that the Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as they should with any credible allegation of sexual harassment,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerRed-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Trump's latest win: More Americans are saying, 'I quit!' MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet.

“Sexual harassment is never acceptable and must not be tolerated,” he added.

But Schumer, like most Democrats on Thursday, did not respond to a question about whether Franken should resign.

“I feel very strongly that Roy Moore should not be a senator, and I feel strongly that if he is elected that the Senate should have its own response to it. I expect to hear more from Sen. Franken on this issue,” Gillibrand said when asked if Franken should resign from the Senate like Moore should withdraw from his race.

Durbin, asked if Franken should resign, said, “No, no, no, no.”

“I think you go through the ordinary due process. And have this thing judged on its merits,” he said.

Asked if an investigation could lead to the committee recommending that the Senate expel Franken, Durbin added, “It could lead to any number of things. It’s not fair to prejudge it or judge what the committee will do.”

Franken isn’t on the ballot in 2018, but the fallout over his sexual assault allegations quickly spilled over into the midterm battle for the Senate, where Democrats face a challenging map. 

Republicans and allied outside groups quickly demanded that Democrats, in particular senators running in red states carried by President Trump, give back any campaign donations from Franken or his PAC.

Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillRed-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Analysis: Dark money groups have funded 44 percent of 2018 congressional ads Beto O'Rourke is dominating Ted Cruz in enthusiasm and fundraising — but he's still headed for defeat MORE must denounce her Democrat colleague and return campaign donations she has received from him. … If McCaskill won’t immediately denounce Franken and return his donations, it will be clear she puts partisan politics over basic decency,” said Bob Salera, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

The NRSC released almost identical statements targeting other Democrats up for reelection, including Manchin and Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Dems in terrible bind on Kavanaugh nomination Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race MORE (Mont.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war Hillicon Valley: DOJ appeals AT&T-Time Warner ruling | FBI agent testifies in heated hearing | Uproar after FCC changes rules on consumer complaints | Broadcom makes bid for another US company | Facebook under fire over conspiracy sites MORE (Fla.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (N.D.).

Tester, asked if the NRSC was going too far, said, “I’ve been focused on the [Veterans Affairs] bill on choice. I haven’t been focused on this.”

“Have they asked the people who contributed to Roy Moore to ask for their money back?” Tester asked, as he headed into the Democratic caucus lunch.

But by late Thursday afternoon, Democrats were rushing to donate Franken’s campaign cash.

Tester said he would donate $25,000 in donations “to support the important work” of the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

In addition to Tester, Democratic Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Dems tell Trump: Don't meet with Putin one-on-one On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump walks back criticism of UK Brexit strategy | McConnell worries US in 'early stages' of trade war | US trade deficit with China hits new record Blueprint to Lower Drug Prices could offer a way forward in fight against mushrooming costs MORE (Ohio), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinAnalysis: Dark money groups have funded 44 percent of 2018 congressional ads The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies for Putin summit: 'He’s not my enemy’ Dem senator: Kavanaugh would 'turn back the clock' on women's health care MORE (Wis.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Overnight Health Care: Official defends suspending insurer payments | What Kavanaugh's nomination means for ObamaCare | Panel approves bill to halt employer mandate MORE (Ind.), Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDem senator: Kavanaugh would 'turn back the clock' on women's health care Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race Trump delivers another promise to conservatives with Supreme Court MORE (Pa.), Gillibrand, Heitkamp, Manchin and Nelson each said they were donating their contributions from Franken.

“The allegations against Senator Franken are serious, hurtful and should be investigated. It was the correct decision for Senator Franken to ask for an Ethics Committee investigation,” Manchin said in a statement. “I am also returning his donations.”

Nelson, whom Franken was supposed to headline a fundraiser for this weekend, added that, "as for the events this weekend, Sen. Franken is no longer available." 

Alexander Bolton and Rebecca Kheel contributed