The Democratic senators who called on Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., to resign Wednesday deserve praise for making the right call.
They also deserve criticism for waiting until the number of accusers neared double digits.
As a quick aside: This article is obviously not a defense of the GOP’s sexual misconduct problems. Please see here, here, and here for a small sampling of how we’ve addressed that particular issue. Two bad things can exist on the same plane at the same time.
Franken stands accused of either groping and forcibly kissing at least seven women.
Franken’s first accuser, Leeann Tweeden, said he forcibly kissed her in 2006 during a USO tour rehearsal. On that same tour, when Tweeden was asleep, Franken also posed for a photo that showed him pretending to grope her breasts. There's photo evidence.
A second woman, Lindsay Menz, said Franken grabbed her buttocks in 2010, after he was elected senator, when they posed for a photo together at the Minnesota State Fair.
Two more women, both of whom have chosen to remain anonymous, told the Huffington Post later that they also had their posteriors fondled by the senator while posing with him for a photo.
And so on.
It’s worth noting that Franken has admitted to only the groping photo. For everything else, he has tried to walk a fine line between respecting the “believe women” mantra and denouncing the allegations. The core of his overall response to his sexual misconduct scandal has been to say we must “believe women, but not these women." It has been a series of denials cloaked in accommodating language.
Franken’s Democratic colleagues, both male and female, have accommodated him by deferring all questions about his alleged misconduct to an ethics panel.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., for example, dismissed a question last week about whether Franken should step down by saying, “It’s his decision. I was the first Democrat to call for the investigation. I think having that process is important.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., also said after the Tweeden story broke that, “These allegations are disturbing. I support an ethics committee investigation into this matter.”
Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also said at the time, “What Franken did was wrong, and it should be referred to the Ethics Committee for review.”
On Wednesday, things changed for Franken. A seventh woman emerged to accuse the senator of misconduct, and that was apparently the magic number for Democrats. Many of the same senators who had previously referred his reported misconduct to an ethics panel turned on Franken, demanding his immediate resignation.
“While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn't acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve,” said Gillibrand.
Cantwell, for her part, said, “Senator Franken’s actions are disturbing, egregious, and demonstrate a pattern of serious misconduct and abuse. It is time for Senator Franken to resign from office.”
Then there was Durbin, who said Wednesday that Franken “should resign from the Senate.”
It’s fine and all that these Democratic senators came out in force Wednesday to claim there can be zero tolerance for this sort of behavior, but doing so only after a seventh accuser emerged is a bit like calling the fire department after the roof has already collapsed.
These senators were apparently okay referring Franken’s reported misconduct to the Ethics Committee when there were only one, then two, then three, then four, then five, and then six accusers.
But seven is too many, by God! There is zero tolerance after seven.