Franken resigns over sexual harassment allegations

The Minnesota senator has been accused of sexual harassment by seven women so far.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and his wife Franni arrive at the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Thursday, December 7, 2017. (CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and his wife Franni arrive at the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Thursday, December 7, 2017. (CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Following a wave of Democratic calls for his seat the day prior, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D) resigned on Thursday, announcing his decision on the Senate floor.

I am proud that during my time in the Senate I have used my power to be a champion of women and that I’ve earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day. I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks, but I know who I really am,” he said. “Serving in the United States senate has been the great honor of my life. I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonor on this institution, and I am confident that the ethics committee would agree. Nevertheless, today I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States senate.”

Franken also called out both Senate candidate Roy Moore and President Trump in his comments, both of whom have faced accusations of sexual misconduct from several women themselves.

“I am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” he said. “But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota.”

Franken has been accused of sexual harassment by seven woman, several of whom claim the former comedian groped them or kissed them without their consent. The tipping point came on Wednesday morning, after Politico published an account by one woman who claimed Franken made unwanted sexual advances toward her following a radio interview in 2006, saying, “It’s my right as an entertainer.” Franken denied the allegation, stating through his spokesperson that while he was “ashamed” of his prior actions, he “never intentionally engaged in that kind of conduct” with his most recent accuser.

Although Democrats were slow to respond to the allegations against Franken initially, on Wednesday, in what appeared to be a coordinated effort, a cascade of female senators responded to the Politico report by calling on him to step down.

“I consider Senator Franken to be a friend and have enjoyed working with him in the Senate in our shared fight to help American families,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote in a statement on her official Facebook page. “But this moment of reckoning about our friends and colleagues who have been accused of sexual misconduct is necessary, and it is painful. We must not lose sight that this watershed moment is bigger than any one industry, any one party, or any one person.”

She added, “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.”

Other senators were less forgiving.

“Today, I am calling on my colleague Al Franken to step aside. I’ve struggled with this decision because he’s been a good Senator and I consider him a friend. But that cannot excuse his behavior and his mistreatment of women,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) wrote in a series of tweets.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) tweeted simply, “I believe it is best for Senator Franken to resign.”

Calls from Franken’s male colleagues soon followed. “Senator Franken needs to step down and we all need to do more to make clear that sexual harassment and assault are unacceptable,” Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a statement.

Vermont Sens. Patrick Leahy (D) and Bernie Sanders issued similarly hardline statements, with the latter tweeting, “Sen. Franken has said that he will be making an announcement about his political future tomorrow. The right thing is for him to resign.” Leahy wrote in a statement that Franken “ha[d] to step aside” and that, while the nation had seen some progress, it still had “a long way to go.”

By the end of the day, some 32 Democratic senators had issued statements calling for Franken’s resignation. The nail in the coffin came just before 5 p.m. ET, when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement to reporters, saying, “I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately.”

In his resignation announcement on Thursday, Franken agreed with his colleagues in part, noting that it had “become clear that [he couldn’t] pursue the ethics committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator.” He added,

I may be resigning my seat but I am not giving up my voice. I will continue to stand up for the things that I believe in as a citizen and as an activist, but Minnesotans deserve a senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day. There is a big part of me that will always regret having to walk away from this job with so much work left done, but I have faith that the work will continue because I have faith in the people who have helped me do it.

Franken’s approval numbers have plummeted since the first accusations against him went public. According to a Morning Consult and Politico poll published on November 22, at least 50 percent of respondents nationwide felt Franken should resign his post; responses were largely the same among all demographics.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) is expected to announce Franken’s replacement in the coming days. Democratic sources with ties to the state told CNN’s Rebecca Berg on Thursday that he will likely appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.