Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign

Camille Fine

Democratic senators came out in droves Wednesday calling for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign following multiple accusations of groping and improper sexual conduct.

The charge was led by women in the Senate, seven of whom came out with successive statements seemingly in coordination calling for Franken to step down.

“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,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the first out with a statement, said in a message posted on Facebook.


The statements mark a shift for Democratic senators who previously dodged calls for Franken to resign despite a growing number of allegations against him. As recently as last week they said they were waiting for the Ethics Committee to review the accusations against him.

That changed when a new charge became public on Wednesday from a woman who said the senator has sought to forcibly kiss her in a 2006 incident.  

Six female Democratic senators quickly followed Gillibrand in saying that Franken should step down: Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.).  

“I believe the best thing for Senator Franken to do is step down,” Harris said.

By early afternoon, Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat, and Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tom Carper (Del.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Gary Peters (Mich.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) had also called on Franken to resign.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine), both Independents who caucus with the Democrats, also called on Franken to step down.

“The right thing is for him to resign. We are now at a crossroads in American culture. And it is an important one. The way we treat women in our country has been abysmal in almost every way. We are finally addressing the issue of sexual harassment, and we need to get it right,” Sanders said in a statement.

Franken’s office said he would be making an announcement on Thursday.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), the other senator from Minnesota, did not explicitly echo calls for Franken to resign but said she had spoken with her colleague. 

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable. This morning I spoke with Senator Franken and, as you know, he will be making an announcement about his future tomorrow morning. I am confident he will make the right decision,” she said in a statement.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) also declined to comment on Wednesday, saying that he would speak to Franken directly and release a statement after Thursday’s press conference.

The women calling for Franken to step down included possible 2020 presidential candidates Harris and Gillibrand, and Murray, the No. 3 Democrat and highest-ranking female senator.

“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior. It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time,” Murray said.

She added that “we cannot pick and choose based on political party or friendship who we call out.”

The Boston Globe reported that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another possible presidential candidate, had called Franken to urge him to step down.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, said he did not believe Franken could “effectively serve the people of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate any longer.”

“While the Senate Ethics Committee is reviewing these serious allegations, it now appears that Senator Franken has lost the support of his colleagues, and most importantly, his constituents,” McConnell said in a statement, calling the allegations against Franken “extremely concerning to all of us in the Senate.”

Franken has been battling allegations of sexual misconduct since mid-November when radio host Leeann Tweeden said he kissed and groped her without her consent during a 2006 USO tour.

Since then, multiple women have come forward saying Franken inappropriately touched them.

Franken, who routinely doesn’t speak to reporters in the Capitol, has kept a relatively low profile since allegations first surfaced against him last month.

He skipped four Senate votes and a caucus lunch in the immediate wake of the initial allegation, and spoke on the Senate floor for the first time since early November on Dec. 1.

Still, he went on an apology tour late last month, speaking with local media and holding a rare press conference with Capitol Hill press. He said at the time that he was “embarrassed and ashamed” by the allegations of groping, while also noting he doesn’t remember all of the alleged instances. 
“Those are instances that I do not remember … [but] it’s been clear that there are some women, and one is too many, who feel that I have done something disrespectful, and I’ve hurt them. And for that I am tremendously sorry,” Franken told reporters on Monday.

The calls for Franken to resign come as he is already under an Ethics Committee investigation.

“While the committee does not generally comment on pending matters that may come before it, in this instance, the committee is publicly confirming that it has opened a preliminary inquiry into Senator Franken’s alleged misconduct,” committee members said in a statement.

If Franken doesn’t step down voluntarily, the committee could move forward with a range of potential punishments from a public admonishment to recommending the Senate expel him. 

The Senate last expelled a member — a move that requires support for two-thirds of the chamber — in 1862 for supporting the confederacy.

The pressure on Franken to step down Wednesday also comes one day after Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) resigned from the House amid his own sexual harassment controversy.

And it’s a week before election day in Alabama, where Republican Roy Moore is the favorite for a Senate seat despite allegations from multiple women of improper conduct, including one woman who said Moore touched her sexually when she was 14 and he was 32.

Franken isn’t up for reelection next year. If he steps down immediately, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) would appoint someone to fill his seat until a special election in 2018. The winner of that election would fill the seat for the remaining two years of Franken’s term, while a second election would be held in 2020 for a full six-year term.

Updated: 4:30 p.m.


Tags Al Franken Amy Klobuchar Angus King Bernie Sanders Bob Casey Chris Murphy Claire McCaskill Debbie Stabenow Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Gary Peters Heidi Heitkamp Jeff Merkley Joe Donnelly John Conyers Kirsten Gillibrand Maggie Hassan Maria Cantwell Martin Heinrich Mazie Hirono Michael Bennet Mitch McConnell Patrick Leahy Patty Murray Ron Wyden Sheldon Whitehouse Sherrod Brown Tammy Baldwin Tammy Duckworth Tim Kaine Tom Carper Tom Udall
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