When Sen. Al Franken announced his resignation amid sexual misconduct allegations Thursday the Minnesota Democrat emphasized what he and all Democrats consider a glaring irony: A Republican accused of molesting an underage girl is on the verge of being elected to the Senate and President Trump sits in the White House, accused of sexually harassing or assaulting 19 women.
In pressuring Franken and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., another accused of sexual harassment, to step aside, Democrats outflanked the Republican Party, which this week reaffirmed support for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Democrats signaled they intend to use Moore, and more significantly, Trump’s past with women, to defrock the GOP in 2018.
“Those who trash legitimate accusers, it could be the president, it could be Roy Moore, it could be anybody, there is going to be, and needs to be, a price to be paid for it,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told reporters Thursday. “Now it’s clear that behavior of this kind before you take office is something that the body should take seriously and it should be even-handed if it’s a Democrat or a Republican.”
Franken is beloved by his colleagues. Conyers, Congress’ longest-serving member, is a civil rights icon. But, with the momentum behind the “Me Too” movement gaining steam, Democrats were forced to cut ties, showing they’re serious about a “zero-tolerance” policy. And what, at first, appeared a rejection of Moore by Republicans, changed in the last week when Trump and the Republican National Committee rushed to his defense and poured money into his campaign. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also appeared to walk back his criticism of Moore and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, backed Trump’s endorsement saying, “Many of the things that [Moore] allegedly did were decades ago.”
If Moore, accused of preying on young girls, is elected, Democrats will hammer Republicans unceasingly. Even if he’s not, Democrats made clear their intent to raise anew the several allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Trump before the 2016 election in a bid to make Republicans answer on this politically super-charged issue.
“[It’s] an irony that he’s stepping down and people accused of far worse actions — one of them’s sitting in the White House and the other is running neck-and-neck to be elected to U.S. Senate from Alabama — and there appears to be no consequences for what they apparently did, in some cases a number of years ago,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
If Moore wins, one senior Senate Democratic aide told the Washington Examiner to expect a “constant drumbeat, not just until they do something, but all the way to 2018.”
Senate Republicans excommunicated Moore after revelations of sexual misconduct surfaced. They urged him to withdraw from the Alabama Senate race and warned that he faces an ethics investigation and possible expulsion from Congress if he wins on Tuesday.
Their campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is refusing to provide him any support, financial or otherwise, in his close race with Democrat Doug Jones.
But Trump offered Moore a hearty endorsement one week out from the special election, and the RNC followed the president’s lead. After pulling funding for Moore weeks earlier, the RNC jumped back in, reinstating its financial support for the candidate. Other GOP-friendly groups pledged millions in advertising to push Moore over the finish line.
“The RNC backed him with a lot of money, every single Republican senator and candidate will have to answer for that,” the aide said.
“Speaker [Paul] Ryan must unequivocally disavow the RNC and refuse the support of the committee in 2018,” said Tyler Law, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Any organization that spends money to elect child molesters has no place in the political process.”
Democratic outside group American Bridge is preparing to pounce, saying they’ll “most definitely make an issue out of Republicans welcoming a child molester into their caucus.”
“This guy is toxic beyond anything they've ever seen,” said Joshua Karp, a spokesman for American Bridge.
Democrats were always going to focus on the allegations against Moore and Trump because of their “clear abuses,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and a veteran of the Senate.
“But clearing the deck like this certainly gives them the moral high ground and allows them to take cleaner shots,” Manley said. “We were always going to try and hang Moore around Senate Republicans’ necks, but this really gives them the upper hand.”
Andy Barr, Franken’s campaign manager during his 2008 run who collaborated with the senator on a number of his books, including 2017's Giant of the Senate, isn’t convinced Democrats know what they’re doing.
Barr shot off a series of tweets Thursday after Franken’s farewell speech on the Senate floor, taking aim at the premise Democrats are operating under: that Republicans will join them in a zero-tolerance policy because it’s the right thing to do.
“I’m watching our party establish the principle that any allegation of sexual misconduct, regardless of severity or credibility, is disqualifying,” Barr wrote on Twitter. “This, by the way, is not the worst principle to establish! Let’s err on the side of banning creeps!...But now one of two things is going to happen. Either a) Our principled stand will shame/inspire Republicans into following suit, and we will finally rid our politics of its leading creeps and the poisonous male privilege that enables them. Or b) Republicans will take cynical advantage of our principled stand for their own gain.”
The argument is that Republicans are far more calculating in their politics and fiercely loyal to party. If there’s a scandal or a bad seed in the mix, like Moore, Republican leaders stay silent and ride out the storm, refusing to get into the political fray. Democrats speak up — evident in the decision of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to keep Conyers in the headlines, issuing statements after meeting with one of Conyers’ accusers and writing the Ethics Committee, urging them to speed up their investigation.
20) They can stop pretending politics is the utopian debating society it allegedly was in the “good old days” when Democrats and Republicans were two sides of the same coin and fight, on the actual battlefield that exists, like the outcome matters.— Andy Barr (@realAndyBarr) December 7, 2017
Regardless, the sexual harassment reckoning engulfing the country has come to Washington, and it’s not going away. Many credit the bombshell investigation detailing years of harassment and assault perpetrated by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as the breaking point. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says it started when the "Access Hollywood" tape capturing Trump bragging about groping women dropped during the 2016 campaign.
“There is no question that I think the fundamental reason for the cultural shift was those tapes, and now to know that the president of the United States has done, and is proud of having done, some of the very things that women don’t want to have happen to them, and I think this is a way of responding,” Feinstein said. "It’s going to be a very important time in our society, because I think this is a broad shift in views and I think that women are not going to put up with inequality ... And I think this is happening even in very conservative states like Alabama.”
Make no mistake, anxiety is rising among Republicans on Capitol Hill over the twin resignation announcements of Franken and Conyers, fearful it could leave them vulnerable to Democratic attacks.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., announced his resignation from Congress Thursday, as the House Ethics Committee reopened its investigation into Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. Both lawmakers were the subject of complaints from women concerning inappropriate behavior.
The image of a Democratic Party courageously cleaning house of sexual miscreants while a Republican Party refuses to believe credible accusers and looks the other way is a scenario that McConnell and other GOP leaders feared — and tried desperately to avoid.
“My hope is that the people of Alabama do the right thing and do not send Roy Moore to the Senate,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday. The Alaska Republican is chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Moore is in line to be seated on the panel if he defeats Jones, because the appointed Republican senator he would replace, Luther Strange, currently serves there.
“If any Republican co-sponsors a bill with [Moore] or so much as smiles in his direction in a corridor, they’re going to have to answer for it,” said a Democratic strategist.