Sen. Al Franken called it “the worst day of my political life,” as he denied allegations of groping and improper advances from at least six women.
WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, in an emotional speech on the Senate floor, said Thursday that he would resign from Congress, the most prominent figure in a growing list of lawmakers felled by charges of sexual harassment or indiscretions.
Franken called it “the worst day of my political life,” as he denied allegations of groping and improper advances from at least six women. Instead, he took a parting shot at President Donald Trump and Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama; both have also been accused of sexual misconduct.
“I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said.
Hours later, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., resigned after the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, making him the third member of Congress to leave under a cloud of claims of sexual impropriety in three days.
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On Tuesday, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., the longest-serving African American in House history, also quit.
The departures come during a national reckoning over sexual misconduct in the workplace that has cost men their jobs across the spectrum of American life, including in the entertainment and media industries, the arts, academia and now, politics.
Democrats and their leaders forced Conyers and Franken out in a succession of seemingly coordinated statements that made clear their continued presence would be untenable.
Democrats appear determined to grab the moral high ground in an environment in which they hope sexual harassment becomes a wedge issue in the 2018 midterm elections — even if it costs them popular colleagues and political icons.
Republicans, by contrast, have been more situational. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, appears to be under little pressure, even though he used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual-harassment claim with his former communications director. The House Ethics Committee said Thursday that it was establishing a subcommittee to investigate Farenthold.
Moore’s Senate candidacy in Alabama has surfaced accusations that he sexually molested or assaulted girls as young as 14, yet he continues to have the support of Trump and the Republican National Committee. And allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Trump have hardly shaken his control over the party.
Franken’s announcement Thursday was a jarring end to an improbable political career in which the senator, a founding writer and performer on “Saturday Night Live,” narrowly won a seat in 2008 and offered Democrats a crucial vote needed to advance the Obama administration’s agenda, including the Affordable Care Act.
The accusations against him began last month, when LeeAnn Tweeden, a radio news anchor in California, accused Franken of forcibly kissing and groping her on a USO tour in 2006. Several women also said Franken groped them as he posed with them for photographs, mostly before he became a senator.
In the past three weeks, Franken has repeatedly apologized for his behavior, although he has also challenged some of the accusations of impropriety.
Until Wednesday, he had said he would remain in his job, but his Democratic colleagues in the Senate made clear this week his apologies and admissions were not sufficient.
The Senate was somber as Franken delivered his speech Thursday. His staff and family, including his wife, Franni Bryson, watched from the gallery above. About 20 Democrats and, apart from Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, who was presiding, just one Republican — Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona — arrived in the chamber to hear his remarks.
In his speech, Franken called the national reckoning “an important moment” that was “long overdue,” adding, “We were finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men’s actions affect them.” He said he was “excited for that conversation” and hoped to be a part of it.
“Then,” he said, “the conversation turned to me.”
Franken said he decided to leave office because it became clear that he could not both pursue an Ethics Committee investigation and represent the people of Minnesota. He maintained that he would have ultimately been cleared.
“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” Franken said. “Others I remember very differently.”
“I know in my heart, nothing that I have done as a senator, nothing, has brought dishonor on this institution.”
Franken did not specify when he would leave, saying only that he would do so “in the coming weeks.”
It will be up to the Democratic governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, to choose a successor for Franken who will serve until November 2018. Dayton is expected to choose from among several prominent Democratic women, including Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Attorney General Lori Swanson.
Leaving the Capitol shortly after his speech, Franken said he would not be taking questions. But asked whether he had a message for his home state, he said, “I’ll be coming home.”