Franken, in Se­nate speech, cites bit­ter irony of dou­ble stan­dard

The Buffalo News - - WASH­ING­TON NEWS -

in 2014 with 53 per­cent of the vote, amounted to both a moral and po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion. It was the Democrats’ strong­est dec­la­ra­tion yet that they – un­like the Re­pub­li­cans – are will­ing to sac­ri­fice their own in the in­ter­est of stak­ing out the high ground.

As the coun­try moves into the midterm elec­tion sea­son, it re­mains to be seen whether a new sen­si­tiv­ity to­ward sex­ual mis­con­duct, which has found a voice in the #MeToo move­ment, will be­come a more po­tent force than par­ti­san loy­al­ties.

In his speech on the Se­nate floor where he an­nounced his plans to re­sign, Franken, 66, pointed out what, to his sup­port­ers, is a bit­ter irony: “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.”

That, in fact, is pre­cisely the con­trast that Democrats hope to present – as House lead­ers did in forc­ing the res­ig­na­tion of Rep. John J. Cony­ers Jr., DMich., at 88 the long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of Congress, who was ac­cused of de­mand­ing sex­ual fa­vors from fe­male staffers.

Don­ald Trump was elected pres­i­dent last year, de­spite his crude boasts about mis­treat­ing women picked up on a now-in­fa­mous “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” video from 2005, and de­spite ac­cu­sa­tions by nearly a dozen women that he had be­haved that way to­ward them.

Next Tues­day will an­swer an­other ques­tion: Will Bi­ble­belt Alabama send to the Se­nate a Re­pub­li­can, Roy S. Moore, who faces cred­i­ble ac­cu­sa­tions of hav­ing made sex­ual ad­vances on teenagers when he was in his thir­ties? Af­ter Trump en­thu­si­as­ti­cally en­dorsed Moore, 70, a for­mer state judge, this week in ad­vance of Tues­day’s spe­cial elec­tion, and the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee re­sumed its fi­nan­cial sup­port, GOP sen­a­tors are brac­ing for an ex­ceed­ingly awk­ward sit­u­a­tion if he wins.

“Clearly, part of the wager here was to try to force Franken out be­fore Tues­day, to draw a bright line around Moore’s al­leged trans­gres­sions. Tues­day will be the test,” said David Ax­el­rod, who was for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s chief po­lit­i­cal strate­gist.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., the party’s 2016 vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, told re­porters that Franken’s res­ig­na­tion also es­tab­lishes a “new stan­dard,” in which be­hav­ior that pre­dates an of­fi­cial’s elec­tion can be used to judge fit­ness to hold of­fice.

Some say that while Franken’s forced res­ig­na­tion might give the Democrats a mo­men­tary ad­van­tage, it will not be enough to over­come the deeper dy­nam­ics that drive the elec­torate. Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Nor­man J. Orn­stein, a close friend of Franken, said, “Right now, Democrats have a lit­tle trac­tion on the moral front, but we have now taken away the no­tion of cal­i­bra­tion here. The fact is, peo­ple are go­ing to vote on the ba­sis of their tribes at the mo­ment, and the larger idea here is, they are all bad.”

Ini­tially, Se­nate Democrats had said the Franken mat­ter should be dealt with by the ethics com­mit­tee. But the ur­gency mounted, as more ac­cusers came for­ward, al­leg­ing acts of vary­ing sever­ity.

When a hand­ful of fe­male Demo­cratic sen­a­tors called for Franken’s res­ig­na­tion Wed­nes­day, most of their cau­cus fol­lowed suit within a mat­ter of hours. Peo­ple who know the Min­nesota sen­a­tor, but who do not want to be iden­ti­fied speak­ing of his pri­vate an­guish, say he was stunned by the sud­den turn­around by his col­leagues.

In his speech, Franken lamented that his re­sponse to the ac­cu­sa­tions “gave some peo­ple the false im­pres­sion that I was ad­mit­ting to do­ing things that, in fact, I haven’t done. Some of the al­le­ga­tions against me are sim­ply not true; oth­ers, I re­mem­ber very dif­fer­ently.”

That Franken’s res­ig­na­tion has put Re­pub­li­cans off bal­ance can be seen in the fact that some un­likely voices had risen to his de­fense. “This is a party which is los­ing its mind,” for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich said of the Democrats who had turned on Franken. “They sud­denly curled into this weird pu­ri­tanism that feels like a com­pul­sion to go out and lynch peo­ple with­out a trial.”

His com­ments were a con­trast to Trump’s re­ac­tion when the first al­le­ga­tion against Franken be­came pub­lic three weeks ago. Af­ter broad­caster LeeAnn Twee­den posted a photo which ap­peared to show Franken with his hands poised to grope her breasts as she napped, Trump tweeted: “The Al Franken­stien pic­ture is re­ally bad, speaks a thou­sand words. Where do his hands go in pic­tures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? …”

Franken apol­o­gized for his be­hav­ior in the photo, which he said was a mis­guided ef­fort to make a joke, and for hav­ing of­fended Twee­den by at­tempt­ing to kiss her dur­ing a re­hearsal for a USO show in 2006, two years be­fore he was elected to the Se­nate. Twee­den said she ac­cepted his apol­ogy.

On the other hand, Trump’s re­ac­tion to al­le­ga­tions against him has been to brand as liars the women who have made them. It worked, as ev­i­denced by the out­come of the elec­tion.

In Alabama, Moore has taken the same ap­proach.

“There seems to be a dou­ble stan­dard in place where the peo­ple who ac­knowl­edge their be­hav­ior leave, and the peo­ple who don’t get to stay and be re­warded,” Ax­el­rod said. “That’s a strange sit­u­a­tion.”

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