Franken seeks to head off calls for resignation

Franken seeks to head off calls for resignation
© Camille Fine

 

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenDemocrats turn on Al Franken Schumer called, met with Franken and told him to resign Overnight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 MORE (D-Minn.) sought to head off calls for his resignation on Monday by apologizing once again over allegations that he inappropriately kissed or touched as many as four different women.

Franken looked shaken as he walked up to a makeshift stand of microphones before a crowd of reporters and television cameras crammed into the landing outside his office in Hart Senate Office Building. 

“I know that I’ve let a lot of people down: [the] people of Minnesota, my colleagues, my staff, my supporters and everyone who has counted on me to be a champion for women,” he said amid a blizzard of camera clicks. “To all of you I just want to again say I’m sorry.”

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Franken looked uneasy throughout Monday’s press conference, which lasted six minutes. He answered only four questions posed by three different reporters, ignoring queries about whether he would step down from his committee assignments, as Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersAbortion-rights group endorses Nadler in race to replace Conyers on Judiciary Democrats turn on Al Franken Michigan state senator to run for Congress MORE Jr. (D-Mich.) did as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee after being accused of sexual harassment. 

Franken displayed no intention of resigning and instead pledged to work hard to repair the damage with voters, saying, “I’m going to be accountable.” 

“I’m going to try to learn from my mistakes,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. I want to be someone who adds something to this conversation.” 

The Washington press conference itself was a departure for Franken, who has refused to do hallway interviews in Washington and speaks infrequently to reporters on Capitol Hill.

It comes as he faces growing calls from the left and right for his resignation. 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Richard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Dem lawmaker gives McConnell's tax reform op-ed a failing grade MORE (R-Fla.) urged Franken on Sunday to step down, but so far no Democrat in the Senate has joined him. That could change, however, because of pressure from liberal activists such as Credo Action and Indivisible.

A spokesman for Credo said Monday that the group didn’t have anything to say when asked whether Franken had taken adequate responsibility with his apologies. 

Franken says he will cooperate fully with a Senate ethics investigation and has acknowledged that other accusations may come to light in the coming weeks. 

“If you had asked me two weeks ago would any woman come forward with an allegation like this I would have said no, and so I cannot speculate,” he said. “This has been a shock.”

“What I’m going to do is I’m going to start my job and go back to work,” he added.

Franken reiterated a defense rolled out over the weekend in interviews with Minnesota-based media outlets that he did not recall touching or grabbing the buttocks of several women — but he didn’t specifically deny the claims of his accusers, either. 

He said he has posed for thousands of pictures and did not remember ever letting his hand slide below the waist of a woman who asked for a photo.  

“From these stories it’s been clear that there are some women, and one is too many, who feel that I’ve done something disrespectful and that’s hurt them and for that I’m tremendously sorry,” he said.  

“I know I am going to have to be much more conscious when in these circumstances, much more careful, much more sensitive, and that this will not happen again going forward,” he added.   

He said he would be open to making the findings of the ethics panel public. 

In response to his first accuser, radio host Leeann Tweeden, who claimed Franken forced his tongue into her mouth while rehearsing a USO skit in 2006, Franken said he had a different recollection. 

“But I feel you have to respect women’s experience and so I apologized to her and meant it,” he said, noting that she accepted the apology. 

If more women come forward with claims of sexual misconduct or if investigators unearth other explosive details, Franken could ultimately face an expulsion vote — which would require a two-thirds majority of the Senate — although the chance of that seems remote at this point. 

The Minnesota lawmaker declined to say what kind of behavior would demand a resignation.

Franken has become radioactive for Democrats running in tough elections next year. Vulnerable Democrats, including Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocrats turn on Al Franken Trump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Mo.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (Ind.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank GOP defeats Schumer bid to delay tax vote MORE (Mont.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank MORE (N.D.), say they will give away contributions from him to charity. 

It could also make it more difficult for him to co-sponsor legislation as colleagues or interest groups are leery of associating with him, at least in the near future. 

Franken pulled his name off a rape survivors bill two weeks ago after one of its leading advocates, Abby Honold, a former University of Minnesota student, said she didn’t want anything to do with him. 

A Democratic senator who requested anonymity to comment on Franken’s political future says a lot will depend on the Senate Ethics Committee. 

“I hope he continues to serve but if the ethics investigation comes back bad, he’ll have to be held accountable,” the lawmaker said.

Franken, a popular Democratic fundraiser, had been seen as a dark horse candidate for president in 2020. Now Democratic strategists say Franken’s political future is cloudy and there are questions about his ability to remain an effective spokesman for the causes he cares about.

“The question now is whether he can be effective in the Senate. I think he can but if any more allegations come out, he will find himself in a very tough spot,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former senior Senate aide.