Franken resigns, dings GOP
Combative speech references Trump, Moore scandals
WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, a rising political star only weeks ago, reluctantly announced Thursday he’s resigning from Congress, succumbing to a torrent of sexual harassment allegations and evaporating support from fellow Democrats. But he fired a defiant parting shot at President Donald Trump and other Republicans he said have survived much worse accusations.
“I of all people 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,” Franken said.
The 66-year-old Minnesotan, a former Saturday Night Live comedian who made a successful leap to liberal U.S. senator, announced his decision in a subdued Senate chamber three weeks after the first accusations of sexual misconduct emerged but just a day after most of his Democratic colleagues proclaimed he had to go. His remarks underscored the bitterness many in the party feel toward a GOP that they say has made a political calculation to tolerate Trump and Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who’ve both been accused of sexual assaults that they’ve denied.
In largely unapologetic remarks that lasted 11 minutes, Franken said “all women deserve to be heard” but asserted that some accusations against him were untrue. He called himself “a champion of women” during his Senate career who fought to improve people’s lives. “Even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it’s all been worth it,” he said.
Franken’s departure, which he said would occur in “coming weeks,” made him the latest figure from politics, journalism and the arts to be toppled since October. That’s when the first articles appeared revealing sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein and energizing the #Metoo movement in which women have named men they say abused or harassed them.
Democratic Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will name a temporary successor, who will serve until a special election next November.
Franken’s comments appended a melancholy coda to the political career of the one-time TV funnyman who became one of his party’s most popular and bellicose liberals.
Just two days earlier, Rep. John Conyers, D-mich., a civil rights hero who’d been the House’s longest-serving current member, resigned after facing sexual harassment allegations of his own. The two departures underscored the party’s determination to show no tolerance for such behavior, a strategy that can bring stunningly fast conclusions to political careers but that party leaders believe could give them high moral ground on a subject that’s shown no sign of fading.
Later Thursday, Rep. Trent Franks, R-ariz., resigned as well, effective Jan. 3, after admitting he had asked two female staff aides about becoming a surrogate mother. The House Ethics Committee late Thursday also opened an investigation into Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-texas, for allegations he sexually harassed a former staff aide and retaliated against her for complaining of discrimination.
Dozens of Franken’s Democratic colleagues, including many who just a day before made his political future in the Senate all but impossible, gathered on the Senate floor to watch his remarks, along with members of Franken’s staff and family. One by one, they rose to embrace him.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, the only Republican on the floor of the chamber, said, “He is my friend and he did the right thing.”
Moments after Franken’s remarks, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, DIll., said she wanted to thank him “for doing the right thing.”
Leaving the Capitol shortly after, Franken said he would not be taking questions. “I’ll be coming home,” he said when asked if he had a message for his home state.
Sen. Al Franken, D-minn., leaves the Capitol after announcing his resignation Thursday in Washington, following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations.
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