The cascade of opposition opened when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said “it would be better for our country” if Franken left office.
Within minutes, Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Patty Murray of Washington, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Claire McCaskill of Missouri released similar statements.
Sherrod Brown of Ohio also said Franken should “step aside.”
“We have a serious problem in this country with sexual harassment and assault — in Congress, in Hollywood, in business, in the military – everywhere,” Brown said. “I am grateful to the victims who have had the bravery to come forward. Their courage has created a movement that is bringing about change.
“I have listened to them. I have listened to my female colleagues, to women I work with and women in my life. And I agree the time has come for Senator Franken to step aside.
“I also believe the ethics committee should continue to investigate. He is entitled to the investigation,” Brown continued. “And their findings will be important to informing changes that are needed in Congress. To that end, I am also signing on to Senator Gillibrand’s bill to reform the way Congress deals with complaints. Congress should be held to the highest standards.”
The choreographed Democratic actions were intended to impose maximum pressure on Franken, who had resisted resigning even as he vowed full cooperation with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into a series of allegations against him by women that began last month.
“Sexual harassment and misconduct should not be allowed by anyone and should not occur anywhere. I believe the best thing for Senator Franken to do is step down,” Harris said.
The coordinated action “was a result of mounting frustrations over the increasing number of accusations,” said a Democrat familiar with the senators’ conversations who was not sanctioned to speak publicly and requested anonymity. “They felt that enough is enough, and now was the time to ask him to step aside.”
As the calls for resignation grew, Franken announced that he would make a statement about his future on Thursday. He was missing from the Senate during votes Wednesday afternoon.
If Franken steps down, as is widely expected, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, would appoint a replacement who would serve until next November’s midterm election. As Dayton would almost certainly appoint a fellow Democrat to the seat, Franken’s resignation would not change the Senate’s partisan balance.
The fast-moving developments were the latest to hit a Capitol reeling from a spate of sexual harassment allegations, an extension of the nationwide repudiation of such actions in corporate suites, media companies and other firms. The appeals to Franken came on the same day Time magazine bestowed its “Person of the Year” award to “The Silence Breakers,” the women and men who went public at risk to themselves to expose harassment and other acts of sexual misconduct.
For Democrats, the effort to push Franken aside reflected growing calls from party activists for an uncompromising, zero-tolerance stance toward sexual misconduct. Over the past several weeks, as they wrestled with Franken’s situation, party leaders worried about seeming to equivocate on an issue of particular importance to women, who make up the majority of Democratic voters.
Democrats have also wanted to draw a clear contrast with Republican willingness to stand by Roy Moore, the GOP Senate candidate in Alabama who has been accused of acts that included partially disrobing and molesting a 14-year-old girl when he was a local prosecutor in his 30s. Democrats also have long defended more than a dozen women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual improprieties dating back decades, only to have the president cast them as liars.
All those pressures combined to produce a flood Wednesday as, even after Franken revealed plans for his Thursday announcement, more senators added themselves to the list. By midafternoon, well over half the Senate’s Democrats, as well as independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, had called for him to step down. So, too, had Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. No party leaders rose to defend Franken.
Franken’s fellow Minnesota Democrat, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that strongly implied she favored — and expected — a resignation.
“Sexual harassment is unacceptable,” she said. “This morning I spoke with Sen. 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.”
The moves against Franken came the day after the spreading scandal claimed the senior member of the House, Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who resigned after several former aides accused him of sexual harassment and unwanted advances.
Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., was trying to fend off demands by the party’s House leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, and others that he depart after a former campaign aide recounted repeated acts of sexual aggression against her during the 2016 campaign. Kihuen apologized for making the aide “uncomfortable,” but said he would not resign.
By contrast, Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., who had asked for Conyers’ resignation, have made no similar demands of Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold, who allegedly harassed an aide who received an $84,000 taxpayer-financed settlement that was revealed last week. Farenthold told a Texas television station that he did nothing wrong but would try to repay the money.
Those outside of politics have found themselves swiftly dispatched after credible accusations surfaced — Matt Lauer, the NBC “Today” show anchor, was fired little more than a day after the first allegation about him was made public — but Washington has been torn in its response by partisan loyalty, concern about enacting similar punishment for a variety of improper acts and the belief by many elected officials that lawmakers should be judged by voters, not their peers.
Most Democrats before Wednesday had either stayed silent about Franken or argued that his alleged actions — kissing women against their will, mock-groping a woman during a USO tour and grabbing other women’s buttocks — deserved an Ethics Committee review.
The shift to demand his resignation came after Politico reported a former congressional aide’s claim that Franken had kissed her when she accompanied her boss to an appearance on Franken’s radio show. The incident took place almost three years before Franken won his Senate seat in 2008, and echoed previous accusations.
Franken, a comedian before he turned to politics, denied the latest accusation but has acknowledged other misconduct.
He apologized to Leeann Tweeden, the Los Angeles radio host who said Franken had kissed her aggressively in a rehearsal of a skit he’d written for a 2006 USO show in which both performed. She also released a photograph of Franken putting his hands near her breasts as if to grab them as a photographer snapped a picture.
“I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t,” Franken said in his apology. “And the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.”
His colleagues in the Senate indicated Wednesday that such statements were not enough.
“While Sen. 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.
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