Eight women have accused Franken of unwanted touching and kissing. Over 30 Democratic senators have called on him to resign, including the top two Democrats in the chamber. But there are four main reasons Franken’s party is abandoning him now, as the reckoning over sexual misconduct against women moves from Hollywood to the nation’s capital.
The number of accusations were growing and the details were getting worse. Franken looked like he might survive Leean Tweeden’s allegations, even though they were supported by photographic evidence, by apologizing and agreeing to cooperate with an ethics investigation. But new accusers kept coming forward.
The story of the seventh accuser, which broke Wednesday morning, was perhaps the most damning. A former Democratic congressional aide said that Franken, then a liberal talk radio host, tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his show. When she demurred, she claims Franken shot back, “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
Franken has denied the charge and called the quote attributed to him “preposterous.” Nevertheless, they seemed consistent with the sense of entitlement exhibited by men who commit sexual harassment or assault. And some found the words reminiscent of President Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment on the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape that particularly incensed Democratic women, spawning the pink hats worn by the Resistance.
It’s no accident that in the hours following this report, Democratic women serving with Franken in the Senate began calling for him to step down.
John Conyers It was bad timing for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to hail Conyers as an “icon” while he faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment but it described how the Michigan Democrat was viewed in progressive circles for decades prior. He was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the dean of the House, a living link to the civil-rights movement and the driving force behind a lot of liberal legislation.
When Conyers resigned Tuesday, it was inevitably going to increase pressure on Franken. Two Democratic lawmakers party leaders had called on to resign over their treatment of women were people of color: Conyers and Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev. The pushback against Franken, a white liberal, had been more muted.
Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus were irked by the lack of due process afforded Conyers, citing the experience of innocent African Americans railroaded by the justice system. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the third-ranking Democrat in the House, invoked a white woman who murdered her children and blamed black men for the crime, though he did ultimately join Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in calling for Conyers’ resignation.
Clyburn did continue to ask why Conyers was being pushed out of Congress while others were not. His barbs were directed at the Republicans rather than members of his own party. But it is hard to imagine after the circumstances under which Conyers was ousted that there would have been much tolerance for a lengthy ethics investigation of Franken.
Franken’s continued presence was putting his Democratic colleagues — especially the women — in a difficult position. On Tuesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand spoke at Politico’s “Women Rule” conference, where she was asked her position on whether Franken should resign. "I am not going to say that today,” she replied. “But it is something I’m very troubled about." The next morning Politico reported on Franken’s seventh accuser.
Gillibrand has devoted much of her Senate career to women’s issues, including a push to reform the military justice system’s handling of sexual assault. She had recently suggested former President Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency over the Monica Lewinsky affair, part of a broader liberal reappraisal of their defenses of the 42nd president.
That reappraisal rings hollow if it only applies to Democratic leaders who are past their prime. Clinton hadn’t been elected to anything in 21 years, the party is moving away from his relatively centrist “New Democrat” politics and his wife’s loss in the 2016 presidential election likely signaled the end of their Democratic dominance. Conyers had lost a step due to age and Democrats were not eager to have the House Judiciary Committee be chaired by the nearly 90-year-old man if they win the House and try to impeach Trump.
Franken, on the other hand, was a big fundraiser for Democrats. If anything, he was ascendant. He was precisely the kind of political figure Democrats had to make an example of to show they were serious about the treatment of women in the workplace.
Thus on Wednesday, Gillibrand began the flood of Democratic women in the Senate calling on Franken to resign.
Roy Moore The Republican nominee is once again the slight favorite to win next Tuesday’s special Senate election in Alabama, despite allegations that he inappropriately pursued and in some cases even assaulted girls as young as 14 while he was a single man in his 30s. He has the full endorsement of the president, which prompted the Republican National Committee to renege and go back to working to elect Moore.
While the accusations differ in severity and the degree of corroboration, it would have been awkward to keep Franken around during a debate over whether Moore should remain a senator. Compelling Franken to resign, however, increases pressure on Senate Republicans to follow through on pledges to investigate the charges against Moore and perhaps even expel him, despite the precedent expulsion for pre-Senate conduct would set.
Franken’s resignation under pressure would also enable Democrats to say they punish their leaders who are accused of sexual misconduct while Republicans reward theirs. That would be a powerful message ahead of the 2018 elections and a departure from the Democrats’ years as the party of Clinton and Ted Kennedy. They could cast the GOP as the party of Trump, Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold and Moore.
Sixty percent of women say they have been sexually harassed and 47 percent say they have been sexually assaulted, according to polling by Quinnipiac, suggesting the issue could resonate in the midterms.