On Wednesday morning, a seventh woman publicly accused Al Franken of sexual harassment. Hours later, seven of the Minnesota senator’s female colleagues called on him to forfeit his seat. New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand led the charge, writing in a Facebook post, “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.”
Senators Claire McCaskill, Maggie Hassan, Mazie Hirono, Patty Murray, Kamala Harris, and Tammy Baldwin quickly followed.
Shortly after this flurry of statements from female Democrats, a few of the Senate’s men hopped on the bandwagon.
Franken’s office told Bloomberg that he will make an “announcement” on Thursday, but offered no indication of the nature of that pending statement.
Multiple women have accused the senator of kissing or groping them without consent. Franken has acknowledged and apologized for some of these incidents, while characterizing others as misunderstandings. On Wednesday, a former Democratic congressional aide told Politico that Franken attempted to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show. The senator flatly denied that allegation.
Democrats have been torn about how to handle Franken’s scandal, since the allegations against him first began surfacing last month. Some feared that the party would suffer from imposing a moral standard on its elected officials that Republicans refuse to apply to their own. Others felt a loyalty to Franken, and viewed his indiscretions as insufficiently severe to warrant his expulsion from the Senate.
But from the beginning, the party’s best interests have been clear. Minnesota has a Democratic governor, so there is no risk that Team Blue will lose a precious Senate vote. And in pushing Franken out, Democrats will be in a better position to capitalize on the feminist, political energy that the “post-Weinstein moment” has unleashed. More immediately, they will be able to deny Republicans the chance to excuse their tolerance for Roy Moore’s candidacy with an appeal to moral relativism.
Moore’s Democratic opponent in Alabama’s special Senate race, Doug Jones, swiftly capitalized on the opportunity to prove his distaste for sexual predation was nonpartisan.
So, pressuring Franken to resign has a great deal of upside and little obvious downside for Democrats — assuming that no red-state Democratic senators have skeletons in their closets.