Al Franken, Roy Moore and the audacity of Mitch McConnell

From left, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., meet with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

On Wednesday afternoon, nearly two dozen Democratic senators called on Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to resign.

The calls came just hours after Politico published the account of an unnamed woman who alleged that Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006. When she rejected his advances, the woman — the seventh to accuse Franken of sexual misconduct publicly, so far — said Franken told her, “It’s my right as an entertainer.” Franken has denied the accusation.

Around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, in what appeared to be a coordinated effort, several high-profile woman senators, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Kamala Harris (D-CA), among others, released statements calling for Franken to resign. More than a dozen other senators had echoed those calls before lunchtime was even over.

It was a deluge. On the other side of the aisle, however, there was radio silence.

Accusations of sexual harassment against a member of the opposing party would usually be the perfect punching bag for Republicans. The problem? Those same Republicans have so far been unable to muster up the courage to call out alleged sexual predators in their own party.

On Monday, President Trump endorsed Republican Senate Candidate Roy Moore, who is running to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama. Nine women have accused Moore of sexual abuse, including several women who were teenagers at the time of the alleged incidents. One was just 14 when she says Moore, in his 30’s at the time, molested her.

When The Washington Post published its bombshell report last month containing the stories of the first four women to accuse Moore, many top Republicans disavowed the Alabama Republican. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan both said they found the women’s stories credible and believed Moore should step down. The Republican National Committee stopped funding the campaign.

But Moore did not resign from the race, and despite mounting allegations — all of which Moore has denied — McConnell abruptly reversed course this week, saying it was up to the people of Alabama to decide whether or not Moore should represent them in Washington. Then, Trump, who had been criticizing Moore’s rival, Democrat Doug Jones, fully endorsed Moore.

In contrast to the Democratic National Committee, whose chair, Tom Perez, joined calls for Franken to resign on Wednesday, the RNC resumed funding Moore’s campaign on Monday, following Trump’s endorsement.  Many Republicans have also softened their stances since then.

Of course, Moore is hardly the only high-profile Republican facing sexual misconduct allegations. More than a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault as well. And so Republicans, rather than throwing punches on Wednesday, were forced to tread lightly.

In a statement to ThinkProgress, McConnell addressed the subject carefully, saying that the “near daily barrage of allegations of sexual misconduct against Senator Franken” were “extremely concerning to all of us in the Senate.”

But rather than calling for Franken to resign over the allegations, as Democrats have, McConnell punted, stating instead that it appeared Franken had lost the support of his colleagues and constituents.

“I do not believe he can effectively serve the people of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate any longer,” he said.

Franken is expected to address the future of his political career on Thursday. Whether Republicans have a change of heart and join their Democratic colleagues in condemning him before then is anyone’s guess.