With Franken, the Reckoning Over Sexual Misconduct Comes to the Democrats

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Very suddenly, Al Franken is looking like a soon-to-be-former senator. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

With the country warmed up by a debate about whether Roy Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct toward underaged women should disqualify him for Senate candidacy, or even serve as grounds for his expulsion if he is elected on December 12, calls for Al Franken’s resignation will come quickly following allegations from TV personality Leeann Tweeden that the Minnesota senator groped and assaulted her during a USO tour in 2006. Even if some of Tweeden’s allegations were rebuttable, the photo she released of a leering Franken placing his hands on her breasts as she slept on the military transport plane at the end of the tour is probably a career-ender for him. Indeed, the internet chatter from both left and right has already gone there.

The senator’s initial response was not persuasive.

Franken is almost certainly going down, and the only question is whether he can somehow tough it out until the end of his current term in 2020. The odds are very low that he can, particularly since his entire career in politics and comedy is now going to come under fresh scrutiny for misogyny and/or hypocrisy.

Under Minnesota law, if Franken resigns, Democratic governor Mark Dayton will fill the vacancy until the next general election (assuming the resignation occurs before then, the election could be in November 2018). Franken does not seem like someone who would defy public opinion and the advice of his political allies to force the issue, but if somehow he did, his expulsion would be on the table more immediately than Moore’s hypothetical post-election case.

So there are no immediate partisan political consequences for Franken’s self-immolation — no way for Republicans to recoup a seat they may well lose in Alabama, thus providing a neat bipartisan wrap-up to a brisk campaign of righteous indignation about one Republican and one Democrat. A quick Franken resignation might ratchet up the heat on Moore, particularly if the president — who has no moral standing to point fingers at abusers of women — uses the occasion to condemn bad behavior all around and push Moore toward the dustbin of history.

But no matter what happens in Alabama, the Franken revelations shows once again that while conservative Republican men may be more prone to justifying piggish and predatory behavior toward women, just as they have a cavalier if not hostile attitude toward women’s rights, sexual harassment and assault occur all over the partisan and ideological spectrum. As New York’s Rebecca Traister puts it, there’s a national “reckoning” under way that will head in unpredictable directions for many individuals and institutions alike. Democrats were already being drawn into a painful reassessment of Bill Clinton’s alleged crimes and admitted misconduct. But Al Franken and Roy Moore are presently the odd couple showing the potential consequences of the “reckoning” in politics.

The Reckoning Over Sexual Misconduct Comes to the Democrats