Sen. Al Franken took a quick glance up at a jam-packed Senate press gallery as he entered the chamber Thursday, preparing to ask Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, who was presiding over the chamber, to allow him to make the speech that would end his political career.
A senator who has long dodged questions from reporters, he finally had one for them.
And with that, Franken, D-Minn., set out on his farewell address to the Senate — a 12-minute speech where he continued to proclaim his innocence against eight women who have accused him of sexual misconduct in recent weeks.
"Some of the allegations against me are simply not true," he said. "Others I remember very differently."
The allegations -- and his political demise -- came to a head with a report Wednesday morning when a former Capitol Hill staffer accused him in 2006 of forcibly kissing her and saying it was his right as "an entertainer" to do so. This set off an almost immediate reaction, although Franken remained steadfast that he did no wrong.
In all, over 30 of his Democratic colleagues called for him to step down. However, many were in the chamber to listen to his speech, including at least three senators -- Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. -- who were spotted wiping away tears at some point during or after his speech.
Throughout, Franken staffers sitting over his left shoulder in the back right corner of the chamber were also seen crying and wiping their faces with tissues.
Overall, 22 Democrats listened to his goodbye note to the Senate. Those included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who held a close personal connection to Franken after his 2009 Senate victory during which Schumer ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the first senator to call for his resignation.
Only one Republican sat in on Franken's speech, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. The rest of the Republican side sat empty.
In his speech, Franken name-checked former Sen. Paul Wellstone, the longtime Minnesota Democrat on three occasions. Franken famously defeated former Sen. Norm Coleman in 2009 by 312 votes — who Wellstone was set to face off against in 2002 until a plane crash took his life only eleven days before the election — giving Democrats the much-needed 60th vote for a brief period of time that allowed them to pass the Affordable Care Act.
"The future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard," Franken said quoting Wellstone before adding his two cents. "It is true. It will always be true."
Despite the allegations, Franken tried to keep the speech upbeat as much as he could. He talked at length about the need to be engaged in the political process, pointing to individuals who have attended their first political rally in the past 12 months and his desire to remain in the political sphere despite his exit from the upper chamber.
"Let me be clear -- I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice. I will continue to stand up for the things that I believe in as a citizen and as an activist," Franken said. "But Minnesotans deserve a senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day."
At the conclusion of his speech, nearly all of the 23 senators present greeted him with extended hugs, handshakes, and some parting words. The first to reach Franken was Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the state's senior senator who Franken has served with since he began serving in the upper chamber. Schumer and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., followed suit with big hugs.
After seeing Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., Franken embraced all of his staffers present.
And then, that was that.
And in a few weeks, Al Franken will be a former senator.