After weeks of speculation, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken announced his resignation from the Senate on Thursday morning. The decision comes after seven women accused the former late-night comedian of sexual misconduct over the course of three weeks, beginning on Nov. 16. Franken has disputed some details, but has also apologized, saying that, "we have to listen to women and respect what they say."
In his speech from the Senate floor, he took time to condemn President Trump, calling out the irony that he is resigning while a man who "bragged" about sexual assault sits in the highest office in the country. He also called out Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in Alabama's hotly anticipated Senate special election, who stands accused of inappropriate relationships with underage girls.
"[T]here 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," Sen. Franken said, "and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party." (You can find the full transcript and video here).
By Wednesday, a majority of senatorial Democrats had called for Franken's resignation. "Enough is enough," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement. "The women who have come forward are brave and I believe them."
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.
Gillibrand was joined by over a dozen other Democrats calling for Franken's resignation. "Frankly the numerosity of the complaints and allegations against him, I've found to have weight," Sen. Kamala Harris told reporters.
In November, Leeann Tweeden, a radio host, was the first woman to accuse Franken of sexual misconduct during a United Service Organization tour in 2006, months before he announced his campaign for Senate. Tweeden published her accusations in a blog post:
You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later and be ashamed.
Franken initially disputed some parts of her allegations, but ultimately apologized.
The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There's more I want to say, but the first and most important thing — and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine — is: I'm sorry.
Allegations against Franken span from his time as a working comedian to during his tenure as senator. Most recently, a former staffer claimed that Franken attempted to forcibly kiss her back in 2006, before he assumed office. According to the woman, who has chosen to remain anonymous, Franken supposedly told her, "It's my right as an entertainer." Franken has denied this accusation, describing it as "categorically not true."
Whether or not Franken would resign was not clear during the weeks between the first accusation and Thursday's announcement. Many Democratic leaders appeared hesitant to ask the longtime senator to remove himself. It wasn't until Sen. Gillibrand unequivocally called for his resignation on Wednesday that a deluge of other party senators and leaders began to uniformly call for his removal.
Franken is the second member of Congress to resign this week. Before him, Rep. John Conyers, the longest serving member of the House, resigned on Tuesday. Conyers had been accused of harassment by six former subordinates and affiliates. (Conyers "expressly and vehemently denied" the allegations.)
The resignation of two Democrats from Congress comes as many Republicans have continued to support Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl, as well as pursuing romantic relationships with several other women when they were underage teenagers. In a press release, Moore described the allegations as "completely false [and] desperate political attack."
The Republican National Convention withdrew its support of Moore after the allegations were published, but after President Donald Trump officially announced his endorsement of Moore, the national committee resumed funding his campaign. If he is elected, he is expected to face an ethics investigation, according to comments made by Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Franken is the latest on a long list of powerful men who have had to reckon with allegations of sexual misconduct since October, when a watershed report by The New York Times revealed that movie producer Harvey Weinstein had been accused of sexual misconduct by a series of employees and collaborators; he has largely denied the allegations. On Wednesday, Weinstein released a statement through his lawyers, responding to a Times follow-up about the "complicity machine" which may have previously protect him:
Mr. Weinstein has never at any time committed an act of sexual assault, and it is wrong and irresponsible to conflate claims of impolitic behavior or consensual sexual contact later regretted, with an untrue claim of criminal conduct. ... Nonetheless, to those offended by Mr. Weinstein's behavior, he remains deeply apologetic.
Since the allegations broke, a litany of men in media and politics have been publicly accused of misconduct, ranging from harassment to rape. Dubbed the #MeToo movement, the unmasking of alleged sexual predators has become such a force that TIME Magazine named the so-called "silence breakers" Person of the Year.