Democrats turn on Al Franken

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' Andrew Cuomo and the death of shame MORE (D-Minn.) is expected to resign from office Thursday, one day after his Democratic colleagues turned decisively against him over allegations of groping and other sexual misconduct.

In a dizzying turn of events, more than 30 Democratic senators called for Franken to step down after a new woman came forward to allege that he had forcibly tried to kiss her.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandPaid family leave proposal at risk Which proposals will survive in the Democrats' spending plan? Proposals to reform supports for parents face chopping block MORE (D-N.Y.) opened the floodgates around noon, becoming the first senator to call for him to quit; others followed in rapid succession, effectively ending Franken’s political career in the span of a few hours.

Franken kept a low profile, skipping Senate votes, but his office said he would make a statement on Thursday. A Democratic official told Minnesota Public Radio he will be resigning from office, though his office insisted a decision had not been made.

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It’s a stunning fall for Franken, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer and author who, just a few weeks ago, was considered by many to be a dark horse for his party’s presidential nomination in 2020.

The first allegations against Franken emerged in mid-November, when Leeann Tweeden, a radio host, said he had kissed and groped her without her consent during a USO tour in 2006. She published a photo of Franken appearing to grab her breasts while she was asleep.

Several women came forward in the weeks after that to allege that Franken had groped or kissed them against their will, but Senate Democrats refused to call for Franken’s ouster, repeatedly stating that an Ethics Committee investigation should be allowed to run its course.

That changed Wednesday, when seven female Democratic senators called for Franken to 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,” Gillibrand said in a message posted on Facebook.

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By the end of the day more than half of the Democratic caucus — ranging from members of leadership to red-state senators to progressives and 2020 hopefuls — had said it was time for Franken to go.

“[We’ve] just seen that the charges, credible charges, continued to keep coming, and I thought it might have been an isolated incident or two, but it seems to be that there was a pattern of conduct,” Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinInfrastructure bill carves out boosts to first responders, wildland firefighters Democrats face critical 72 hours Bipartisan lawmakers target judges' stock trading with new bill MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters.

Murray added that the latest allegations showed that “this is a persistent pattern and needs to be addressed.”

The breaking point for Senate Democrats came when Politico published a story where a former congressional aide said Franken tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006. He called the alleged incident “categorically not true.”

Though Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPricing methane and carbon emissions will help US meet the climate moment Democratic senator: Methane fee could be 'in jeopardy' Manchin jokes on party affiliation: 'I don't know where in the hell I belong' MORE (D-N.Y.) didn’t publicly call for Franken’s resignation until Wednesday evening, a person familiar with their discussions said he called Franken immediately after the Politico story published, before the resignation calls started, to tell him he needed to step down. 

Schumer also urged Franken to resign during a “series of phone calls” throughout Wednesday, the source said, and had a meeting with Franken and his wife at Schumer’s apartment. 

A Democratic aide told The Hill that senators had been privately discussing what to do about Franken “for a while” before the latest allegations surfaced on Wednesday.

“This latest story certainly prompted continued conversations, and this morning members talked to each other about not waiting any longer to come out and call for him to resign,” the aide added.

And even as Democratic senators raced to distance themselves from Franken on Wednesday, new allegations continued to surface against him.

A former Democratic staffer wrote in The Atlantic that Franken groped her in 2009 while they posed to take a photo at a Media Matters inauguration celebration.

“He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice,” she wrote.

The push by Senate Democrats came after House members were increasingly vocal in stating that Franken should resign.

Former Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersThe faith community can help pass a reparations bill California comes to terms with the costs and consequences of slavery Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote MORE Jr. (D-Mich.), who faced his own string of sexual harassment allegations, stepped down on Tuesday after coming under heavy pressure from his colleagues. Some of his allies in the Congressional Black Caucus appeared to question why Franken was still serving, calling it a double standard.

Senate Democrats were also facing charges of hypocrisy for not abandoning Franken, given their denunciations of Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Moore is facing several allegations of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls when he was in his 30s; he has denied those allegations and refused to drop out of the race.

The former judge was endorsed by President Trump ahead of a special election on Tuesday and appears to have a good chance of winning the seat and coming to Washington.

Democrats downplayed suggestions that their criticism of Moore put pressure on them to demand Franken’s resignation.  

“It’s not a partisan issue. Sexual harassment is wrong. Groping people, propositioning them, is unacceptable behavior,” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineObama gives fiery speech for McAuliffe: 'Don't sit this one out' Biden injects new momentum into filibuster fight Democratic frustration with Sinema rises MORE (D-Va.), who didn’t call for Franken to resign but said that he would give his advice to him privately.

Asked if Democrats are trying to seek the “moral high ground,” Durbin added: “I hope members of both parties will be guided by sound principles, even when it’s painful. And this is painful. Al Franken’s my friend.”

The Ethics Committee has already launched a “preliminary inquiry” into the allegations against Franken. If he doesn’t resign on Thursday, the panel could recommend a range of potential punishments, including a public reprimand or even expulsion.

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

Franken’s resignation wouldn’t have an immediate impact on the Senate’s party breakdown.

Under state law Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) would appoint a candidate to serve until the 2018 elections, meaning the seat would likely stay in Democratic hands for at least the next 11 months.

Whoever wins the 2018 election would serve out the remainder of Franken’s term, which runs through 2020. A second election would be held in 2020 for a full six-year term.

Democratic Reps. Keith EllisonKeith EllisonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Democrats to scale back agenda Minnesota AG ups charges against ex-police officer in shooting of Daunte Wright Trump campaign, RNC refund donors another .8 million in 2021: NYT MORE and Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumFunding fight imperils National Guard ops Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill House subcommittee advances 6B Pentagon spending bill MORE are both being floated as potential successors to Franken. Meanwhile, former Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican who Franken defeated in 2008 by a few hundred votes, declined to rule out a potential bid on Wednesday.

“Never say never,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Niv Elis and Alexander Bolton contributed.