WASHINGTON (AP) — Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, facing fresh sexual misconduct allegations and vanishing support from fellow Democrats, will reveal his political future Thursday, with signs pointing to him resigning from Congress. Democratic colleagues urged him to step aside and said they expected he would “do the right thing.”
Franken’s office said he would make an announcement at 11:45 a.m. in a speech on the Senate floor.
A majority of the Senate’s Democrats called on the two-term lawmaker to quit after a woman emerged Wednesday morning saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006. Hours later, another woman said Franken inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her in 2009. That brought the number of women alleging misconduct by Franken to at least eight.
Franken, the former comedian who made his name on “Saturday Night Live,” has gained respect as a serious lawmaker in recent years and has even been mentioned in talk about the 2020 presidential campaign.
If he quits, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat, would name a temporary replacement. The winner of a special election in November would serve through the end of Franken’s term in January of 2021. Among the possibilities is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a trusted ally.
“Enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York declared on Wednesday. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”
A torrent of Democrats quickly followed Gillibrand.
“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”
Though the writing appeared to be on the wall, Franken’s departure was not certain. A tweet posted Wednesday evening on his Twitter account said: “Senator Franken is talking with his family at this time and plans to make an announcement in D.C. tomorrow. Any reports of a final decision are inaccurate.”
However, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement, “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.”
Franken has acknowledged and apologized for some inappropriate behavior, but on Wednesday he vehemently denied the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.
The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that she ducked to avoid his lips but Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
Franken said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”
The pressure on him to leave mounted this week after Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned following numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. Rep Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., faces pressure to resign as well over allegations reported by Buzzfeed that he repeatedly propositioned a former campaign worker.
While Franken apparently is departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore could be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused the 70-year-old Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens and he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s. If Moore is elected, it could create a political nightmare for Republicans, who have promised an ethics probe.
A national conversation about sexual harassment has intensified this fall after the heavily publicized case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of many acts of sexual misconduct, including rape, by actresses and other women. Just on Wednesday, Time magazine named as its person of the year the “silence breakers” — women who have come forward on sexual harassment.
Punishment has been swift for leaders in entertainment, media and sports while members of Congress have tried to survive the onslaught of allegations.
Franken already faced a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into previous claims by several other women that he groped them or sought to forcibly kiss them.
The allegations began in mid-November when Leeann Tweeden, now a Los Angeles radio anchor, accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour in Afghanistan.
Other allegations followed, including a woman who says Franken put his hand on her buttocks as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo on a USO tour in 2003.
Franken has apologized for his behavior but has also disputed some of the allegations.