WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, his political career in shambles amid sexual misconduct allegations, lost the support of his Democratic colleagues Wednesday and faced new pressures to resign over what a fellow senator said was a “clear pattern” of abuse.
Franken’s support in the Senate crumbled after another woman emerged saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006, bringing to seven the number of women accusing him of sexual impropriety. More than a half dozen female Democratic senators and some men called on him to resign.
The Minnesota Democrat scheduled an announcement for Thursday, and while his office didn’t specify the topic, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he expected Franken to resign at that time.
“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behaviour,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “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.”
“Obviously, there were new allegations today, and enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told reporters. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., did not immediately comment, but Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was among those calling for Franken to step aside.
The demands came in rapid succession after Franken on Wednesday vehemently denied a new sexual misconduct accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006.
The woman, who was not identified, told Politico that Franken pursued her after her boss had left and she was collecting her belongings. She said she ducked to avoid his lips, and that Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
Franken, in a statement, said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right as an entertainer was “preposterous.”
But it was soon clear that Franken’s position had become untenable, and his office later issued a statement saying, “Senator Franken will be making an announcement tomorrow. More details to come.”
A top Senate Democrat, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tweeted: “I expect that Senator Franken will announce his resignation tomorrow.”
Capitol Hill has long had a culture that has erred on the side of protecting lawmakers. Franken, who is generally liked and respected by his colleagues, was initially afforded deference as he battled the initial allegations against him. But as the allegations mounted, a Democratic aide said, women in the Senate — whom faced increasing pressure from the public and the media for protecting Franken — grew increasingly frustrated.
The pressure only increased after Tuesday, when former Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., resigned after numerous allegations of sexual misconduct.
“Senator Franken’s actions are disturbing, egregious, and demonstrate a pattern of serious misconduct and abuse,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
“I have listened to them. I have listened to my female colleagues, to women I work with and women in my life,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “And I agree the time has come for Senator Franken to step aside.”
One irony: While Franken might be departing, Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore might be arriving, if he prevails in a Dec. 12 special election. Multiple women have accused Moore of sexual misconduct with them when they were teens, including one who said Moore molested her when she was 14.
Franken already faced a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into previous claims by several other women that he groped them or sought to forcibly kiss them.
“This allegation is categorically not true and the idea that I would claim this as my right as an entertainer is preposterous,” Franken said. “I look forward to fully co-operating with the ongoing ethics committee investigation.”
The allegations against Franken began in mid-November when Los Angeles radio anchor Leeann Tweeden accused him of forcibly kissing her during a 2006 USO tour.
Several other allegations have followed, including a woman who says that Franken put his hand on her buttocks during a picture pose at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010. Two women, who asked to remain anonymous, have told the Huffington Post that Franken squeezed their buttocks at political events during his first campaign for the Senate in 2008. A fourth woman, an Army veteran, alleged Franken cupped her breast during a photo op on a USO tour in 2003.
Franken has apologized for his behaviour but he has disputed some of the allegations.
There are 16 Democratic women in the Senate. Among the others that have not yet commented are Franken’s fellow Minnesotan, Amy Klobuchar, whose office said she had spoken to him Wednesday morning.
Other Democratic women demanding Franken’s resignation included Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. Besides Durbin and Brown, men calling for Franken’s resignation included, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Joe Donnelly of Indiana.