Al Franken Resigns from Senate Over Sexual Misconduct Allegations
Senator Al Franken announced his resignation on Thursday, becoming the highest ranking US politician yet to step down in the wake of widening allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the media and politics.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Franken, who said he would quit in the coming weeks, said “all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously”.
But he said that his response to the sexual misconduct allegations against him “gave some people the false impression that I was admitting doing things that I hadn’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember differently.”
Serving in the US Senate was, he said “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.”
Nevertheless, he said, “I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.”
His decision followed a cascade of calls on Wednesday led by Senate Democratic women who urged Franken, one of their party’s most popular figures, to step down. Their push to remove the former comedian from office is a striking indicator of the growing intolerance of sexual harassment over the past few months.
“Enough is enough,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said in a lengthy Facebook post that started the wave.
“As elected officials, we should be held to the highest standards – not the lowest,” Gillibrand continued. “The allegations against Sen Franken describe behavior that cannot be tolerated. While he’s entitled to an ethics committee hearing, I believe he should step aside to let someone else serve.”
By the end of the day, the majority of the Democratic caucus, including minority leader Chuck Schumer, had called on Franken to step down.
“I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments,” Schumer said in a statement. “But he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately.”
Schumer worked quietly throughout the day on Wednesday urging Franken to step down. According to a person familiar with the call, the minority leader called Franken early on Wednesday before any of his colleagues made public statements to deliver that message and later that day met Franken and his wife at Schumer’s Washington apartment.
Schumer, along with several of the women who had called for Franken’s removal, sat on the Senate floor with their chairs swiveled toward Franken as he announced his resignation. Gillibrand could be seen wiping her eyes.
In the gallery above, Senate staff and aides passed tissues, sniffling as Franken moved through his 11-minute remarks.
“What I want you to know,” Franken said, directing his comments at the next generation of political activists, “is that even today, even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it’s all been worth it.”
He continued: “I know that the work I’ve been able to do has improved people’s lives. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
When Franken finished, the room feel silent. Several colleagues shuffled over to offer their support. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior senator, reached Franken first and pulled him in for a hug. And cucked Republican senator Jeff Flake, who is retiring at the end of his term, crossed the aisle to shake Franken’s hand.
But in perhaps another sign of the toxicity around men accused of sexual misconduct at this political moment, no one rose to speak in tribute after he left, there was only silence as he walked off the floor.
In the last several weeks, Franken, 66, has been accused by more than half a dozen women of groping or trying to forcibly kiss them.
As early as this week, Franken appeared poised to ride out the controversy, even as John Conyers, the longest serving African American House member, left Congress amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment.