How Kirsten Gillibrand’s Statement On Al Franken Started An Avalanche Of Calls To Resign

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On Wednesday, after weeks of controversy and criticism over sexual harassment, a group of Democratic senators finally took the plunge and called for Minnesota Sen. Al Franken to resign. Many observers were surprised this didn't happen sooner, given an ongoing national spotlight on issues like sexual harassment and assault. But it eventually did, with one particular senator setting the tone; Kirsten Gillibrand's statement calling for Franken's resignation set off a flurry of her Democratic colleagues following suit.

Franken has faced multiple allegations of sexually predatory behavior in recent weeks, both during his tenure as a senator and prior to becoming a politician. When the allegations first starting piling up, Franken claimed some of the details of these stories weren't true, but he also apologized and stressed the need to "listen to women." In response to the most recent allegation, however, he's issued a flat denial, calling the claims "categorically not true."

Gillibrand called on him to resign on Wednesday morning, after which a veritable avalanche of Democratic senators came out in favor of Franken's resignation. In relatively short order, as The Hill detailed, Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Kamala Harris of California, Patty Murray of Washington, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii came out with similar statements, demonstrating that the tides were turning against the Minnesota senator.  

At the time of this writing, more than 20 Democratic senators have come out in favor of Franken's resignation. In the weeks prior, he'd been on the receiving end of a reported seven allegations of varying forms of sexually predatory behavior, from groping to unwanted kissing. The first came from radio host Leeann Tweeden, who accused Franken of sexual misconduct during a USO tour in 2006.

Since then, one new allegation after another has trickled out, including Franken allegedly groping women's butts during photo ops, and on Wednesday, forcibly kissing a former Democratic congressional aide after an episode of his radio show in 2006. When she recoiled, she says Franken replied "it's my right as an entertainer." He denies this.

From the way Gillibrand's statement began all the calls for resignation, it's easy to suspect some level of pre-planning. The specific details of what motivated this reversal ― after elected Democrats had been treading somewhat cautiously whenever Franken's name came up ― is not yet clear, however.

What's undoubtedly true is that Franken's poll numbers have cratered amid the scandal, making him nowhere near as viable a national figure as he once was. It's also true that his high-profile scandal has put his party in a tricky position as far as the U.S. Senate race in Alabama is concerned. In that race, Democratic candidate Doug Jones is running against Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexually predatory behavior against teenage girls, including allegedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old. Moore strenuously denies all the allegations.

By refusing to condemn Franken's unwanted groping and kissing allegations and call for his resignation, so the thinking goes, the Democrats sacrificed the chance to seize a moral high-ground in the race against Moore, an accused child molester.

It's worth noting that there's no indication seizing some sort of moral high-ground will actually have any impact on things, however. While Democratic politicians accused of sexual misconduct like Franken and Rep. John Conyers have been shunned and denounced by many within the Democratic Party, Moore is endorsed by the president of the United States, and the polls suggest he has a good chance of winning.

Moreover, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has recently walked back his past statements about potentially expelling Moore from the Senate if he's elected, suggesting a Moore victory will be welcomed by the GOP congressional leadership, allegations of child molestation and all.

In short, it's not entirely clear whether Wednesday's breaking point, whether it was purely political, moral, a combination of the two, or the result of yet another allegation coming to light. But this much is clear: Franken is going to have to respond. He'll reportedly be making some sort of announcement on Thursday.