After eight women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment over the past few weeks, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) took to the Senate floor Thursday morning announcing his resignation from his Senate in the “coming weeks.”
“Serving in the United States Senate has been the honor of my life,” Franken said, choking up as he read his remarks, and vowing to stay active in public life. “I may be resigning my seat, but I’m not giving up my voice.”
With his staff lining the wall of the Senate chamber, waving at him in support, and several of his Democratic colleagues watching his remarks with grim expressions, Franken noted that “all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously,” but defiantly claimed that some of the allegations against him are “simply not true.”
Of his previous apologies, Franken said: “I think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very different.”
“I know who I really am,” he declared.
In a brief speech that swung between contrition and frustration, the Minnesota senator noted bitterly that accused abusers in the Republican Party, including Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and President Trump himself, have yet to pay a political price.
“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, seconds after announcing his resignation.
Starting in mid-November, amid a national firestorm around the issue of sexual assault and harassment, women began to come forward with stories of Franken kissing and groping them without their consent: among them a fellow comedian, a service member Franken met on a USO comedy tour, Democratic volunteers, a congressional staffer, and a former elected official. Franken has denied some of the accused actions and apologized for others.
Franken’s colleagues in the Senate, who initially called for the Ethics Committee to investigate the accusations, began calling this week for the senator to resign, noting that the new allegations indicated a “pattern of egregious and unacceptable behavior toward women,” rather than isolated incidents.
With Franken’s resignation, Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton must appoint a temporary replacement for Franken, and he is expected to name Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the seat. In November 2018, the state would hold a special election for a candidate to complete Franken’s term, which ends in 2020.
Franken’s Thursday resignation speech capped a meteoric political climb and swift fall for the former stand up comedian, who came into office in 2009 after surviving a recount, and was considered a potential Democratic candidate to challenge Donald Trump in 2020.
In the Senate, in addition to casting what was arguably the deciding vote to pass the Affordable Care Act, Franken has focused on advocating for the rights of women. He was a cosponsor of the bill to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act in 2012, and introduced a bill in 2015 to make it easier for victims of workplace sexual harassment to seek justice.
Several lawmakers who knew Franken well have said they were “shocked and disappointed” to learn that there was such a stark contrast between his political advocacy for women and his alleged private behavior.
Franken repeatedly drew attention to his pro-woman political record in his resignation speech, saying he has been proud to use his power “to be a champion of women.”
“I know the work I’ve been able to do has made people’s lives better,” he said. “Even today, on the worst day of my political life, it has been worth it.”
After Franken finished speaking, the Senate chamber was silent. Several Democratic senators, including those who had called for his resignation, lined up to shake his hand and hug him. A few appeared to wipe tears from their eyes.
Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.