Al Franken’s firewall of support in the Senate has begun to collapse. Until today, none of his fellow Democrats in the upper chamber suggested that Franken should resign, including Kirsten Gillibrand, who publicly endorsed an Ethics Committee probe instead. After a seventh accuser came forward this morning, Gillibrand has reversed herself and now wants Franken to resign immediately:
I have been shocked and disappointed to learn over the last few weeks that a colleague I am fond of personally has engaged in behavior towards women that is unacceptable. I consider Senator Franken to be a friend and have enjoyed working with him in the Senate in our shared fight to help American families.
But this moment of reckoning about our friends and colleagues who have been accused of sexual misconduct is necessary, and it is painful. We must not lose sight that this watershed moment is bigger than any one industry, any one party, or any one person. …
We should demand the highest standards, not the lowest, from our leaders, and we should fundamentally value and respect women. Every workplace in America, including Congress, needs to have a strong process and accountability for sexual harassment claims, and I am working with others to address the broken and opaque system in Congress.
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.
In the wake of the election of President Trump, in just the last few months, our society is changing, and I encourage women and men to keep speaking up to continue this progress. At this moment, we need to speak hard truths or lose our chance to make lasting change.
That has started a flood of demands from other Senate Democrats. Next up was Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who also issued her call for Franken’s resignation on Facebook:
JUST IN: Sen. Hirono becomes second Democrat senator to call for Sen. Franken to “step aside”
“Women have endured this behavior, which for too long has been ignored and tolerated. But no longer.” pic.twitter.com/UyzSelu494
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 6, 2017
In rapid order, four more women from the Senate Democratic caucus then publicly announced their demand for Franken’s resignation:
BREAKING: 6 Democratic senators have called on Sen. Franken to step aside:
• Sen. Gillibrand
• Sen. Hirono
• Sen. McCaskill
• Sen. Hassan
• Sen. Harris
• Sen. Murray
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 6, 2017
Murray went the farthest in her statement, accusing Franken of a pattern of predatory behavior:
Murray said in a statement that she was “shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior. It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”
Coincidence? Don’t bet on it. CNN’s Brian Stelter quotes colleague M. J. Lee:
“There was clearly some kind of strategy” behind the simultaneous Dem statements about Franken, @MJ_Lee says on @CNN. Up until now, “the silence has been remarkable”
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) December 6, 2017
The collapse appears to have been organized well after three weeks of silence and implicit support for Franken. Oddly, the last accusation is the only one for which Franken has provided a direct and unambiguous denial. Perhaps Senate Democrats did the math and figured out that Franken’s earlier non-admission passive denials were a cover for other bad behavior — or maybe they’re just tired of the issue and want it and Franken to go away.
Clearly something changed this morning, but what was it? Democrats have been attacking Republican support for Roy Moore incessantly (and justifiably), but have looked like hypocrites for circling the wagons around Franken. With six days to go before the special election in Alabama, and with Doug Jones starting to lose momentum, Democrats needed to either act now or keep the wagons circled. Having the women come out en masse to demand it makes it pretty clear that Senate Democratic leadership put some thought behind this effort.
With that said, though, Franken still has to agree to resign. What if he doesn’t? Democrats still get the benefit of demanding his ouster, but at one point Republicans demanded Roy Moore withdraw from the race in Alabama, too. They went back to him when it appeared he remained politically viable in the Senate race. As long as Democrats wait until next Wednesday to back off those demands if/when Franken refuses to step down, that should be good enough for the short run.
It might not be that simple, though. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and built more credibility had they demanded Franken’s resignation when the photo came out. Instead , they waited for six more accusers to come forward while Gillibrand and others publicly endorsed an Ethics probe instead of a call for immediate action. After all, this is a safe Senate seat with a Democratic governor and multiple women who have won statewide office in Minnesota. The cost of casting off Franken three or two or even one week ago would have been minimal, and the loss even more minimal than that. Instead they dithered until it became too costly to not act.
That’s not exactly a Profile in Principled Courage from Democrats, no matter how they spin it for the next six days in Alabama. Then again, Republicans haven’t exactly staged one either.
Update: Add Tammy Baldwin to the chorus from neighboring Wisconsin:
I believe it is best for Senator Franken to resign.
— Sen. Tammy Baldwin (@SenatorBaldwin) December 6, 2017
Oddly silent so far: Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota’s senior senator.
Update: The Senate Dem list is up to ten, and now DNC chair Tom Perez demands Franken’s resignation too:
Sen. Al Franken should step down. Everyone must share the responsibility of building a culture of trust and respect for women in every industry and workplace, and that includes our party.
— Tom Perez (@TomPerez) December 6, 2017
Update: Just three days ago, 136 women in Minnesota endorsed Franken’s decision to remain in office. It includes the outgoing mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, as well as a number of DFL members of the state legislature. I wonder how many of these will hit reverse today, too. (via Aaron Blake at WaPo)