Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., wept on the Senate floor Thursday as he spoke about his deceased friends, former Sen. Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila, who were strong advocates for protecting women from domestic violence.
The moment came During a debate over the Violence Against Women Act and shortly before senators voted 68-31 to reauthorize the law. Franken now holds the senate seat once occupied by Wellstone.
“Sheila Wellstone isn’t with us today,” Franken said as he paused and visibly wept. “Sheila and Paul and their daughter, Marcia were tragically taken from us too soon. But Sheila’s example is with us. Her legacy is with us and her words are with us.”
In 2002, Paul, Sheila and Marcia Wellstone died in a plane crash in Minnesota with five others. Franken said the Wellstone couple championed the Violence Against Women Act when it was first enacted in 1994 and
“The Wellstones’ example served as a constant reminder of what public service is all about. It’s about helping others. It’s about giving a voice to those who otherwise might go unheard. It’s about making the law more just and more fair especially for those who need its protections the most. Frannie and I have a personal responsibility to carry on the Wellstone’s legacy. We all do, and you know what, I think Paul and Sheila would be proud of what we’re doing here today. We’re on the verge of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
Franken praised Sheila for volunteering at women’s shelters in Minnesota where she heard firsthand stories of domestic violence and assault.
“She realized that there were a lot of women across the country that needed a voice, who needed someone to speak up for them. Sheila set out to become that person,” Franken recalled.
The Minnesota Senator closed his speech by reading some words of Sheila’s.
“Here’s what she said. ‘We really have to look at the values that guide us. We have to work toward an ethic that respects every individual to be physically and emotionally safe. No one regardless of age, color, gender or background or any other factor deserves to be physically or emotionally unsafe. In a just society, we pledge to act together to ensure that each individual is safe from harm. In a just society I think we have to say this over and over and over. We are not going to tolerate the violence.’
The strong senate vote in support of the bill belies a polarizing debate in the senate. Republicans had opposed Democrats’ version of the normally uncontroversial bill, which seeks to protect women and children from abuse. GOP senators had sought to strike certain provisions relating to immigrants and gays and lesbians. The debate was central to election year allegations by some Democrats of a Republican “war on women.”
With reporting by the Associated Press