Accused Of Sexual Misconduct, Franken Has Focused On The Issue As A Senator

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), accused on Thursday of forcibly kissing and groping a woman on a USO tour in 2006 before he was in office, has made the prevention of sexual assault and violence against women one of his signature issues as a lawmaker.

Franken on Thursday said he “certainly” did not remember the incident “in the same way” as Leeann Tweeden, who accused Franken of kissing her over her protestations and later groping her in a photograph. Franken offered his “sincerest apologies.”

The senator’s curt statement stood in contrast to his previous extensive championing of legislation to support survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

In 2009, Franken introduced a provision to the next year’s defense appropriations bill that banned federal funding for “defense contractors who forced employees to mandatory binding arbitration in the case of rape, assault, wrongful imprisonment, harassment, and discrimination.”

In a statement at the time, Franken championed the amendment’s passage as “a great victory for victims of assault and discrimination who deserve their rightful day in court.”

The senator said the provision was inspired by the story of an employee for a defense contractor in Iraq, Jamie Leigh Jones, who alleged she was raped by coworkers.

“I will continue to stand up for folks like Jamie Leigh and everyone who needs a voice in Washington,” he said.

In 2011, Franken joined other Democratic senators to introduce the Arbitration Fairness Act (he reintroduced the bill in 2015) to “eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases.” Such clauses often apply to employees alleging workplace harassment.

Franken gave an emotional speech on the Senate floor in 2012 about the Violence Against Women Act, during which he cited the work Sheila Wellstone, the late wife of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), did with survivors of domestic violence.

“The VAWA reauthorization bill is another step toward a more just society as Sheila described it,” Franken said. “And I look forward to it becoming law.”

In 2016, after former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against the network’s then-president Roger Ailes and alleged she was fired after rejecting his advances, Franken and a number of other Democratic lawmakers allied with Carlson to reintroduce the arbitration legislation in 2017.

Amid the flood of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, whom dozens of women have accused of sexual harassment, assault or rape, Franken in October praised the accusers who have come forward as “incredibly brave.”

“It takes a lot of courage to come forward, and we owe them our thanks,” Franken wrote in a Facebook post. “And as we hear more and more about Mr. Weinstein, it’s important to remember that while his behavior was appalling, it’s far too common.”

Also in October, Franken pushed a bill to establish federal funding to train first responders and members of law enforcement in interviewing possible survivors.

Franken sponsored the legislation after a former intern raped a 19-year-old university student, Abby Honold, who reached out to Franken’s office to discuss the subject.

The senator has also tweeted, often and authoritatively, about the importance of supporting survivors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Esme Cribb is a newswriter for TPM in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @emquiry and reached by email at esme@talkingpointsmemo.com.

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