Sen. Al Franken is leaving Congress. But he’s not going quietly.
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Franken, D-Minn., was all but forced by his own party to make the announcement he did today. This moment in society and in politics made it untenable for his Democratic friends and colleagues to line up behind someone accused of multiple instances of inappropriate contact with women.
Franken had already acknowledged mistakes in the past. But he did not repeat his contrition or offer apologies in promising to resign in the coming weeks.
Instead, he took to the Senate floor offering a defiant reminder of the particular vulnerabilities of some other prominent individuals in public life.
“There is some irony that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office,” Franken said, “and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.”
Franken joins Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. – the dean of the House of Representatives, and longest-serving member of Congress in either chamber – in stepping away from office when confronted with allegations this week.
Neither wanted to go. Both held on until a large swath of their fellow party members called for them to go. Both are Democrats.
Last year, then-candidate Donald Trump faced calls to step aside – some public, other private - after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged. He dismissed the tape as “locker-room talk,” and labeled the more than dozen women who accused him of sexual misconduct as liars. Trump kept his campaign going and wound up winning.
In Alabama, the wave of allegations leveled against Senate candidate Roy Moore prompted his party leadership to essentially abandon him, in an effort to force him from the race. Moore stayed in, and the president and the Republican National Committee wound up coming back on his side this week, in advance of next Tuesday’s special election.
That marks a contrast that Democrats will eagerly point out. Their hope is that it provides clarity between the parties, in addition to a recognition that the conversations now going on throughout the country are being heard in the corridors of power.
“It’s long past time for this era of silence to end,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said Wednesday, after calling on Franken to resign. “There are big differences between Democrats and Republicans and this is just one of them.”
This is an awkward conversation for the current occupant of the Oval Office. At the White House today, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders declined to engage on the issues raised by Franken regarding the president’s infamous “Access Hollywood” recording.
“The president addressed the comments back during the campaign,” Sanders said. “We feel strongly that the people of this country also addressed that when they elected Donald Trump to be president.”
Likewise, the people of Alabama next week have an opportunity to address the allegations against Moore. Should he win, Moore will likely take and retain office.
The allegations, though, will remain, even as a party that embraced Moore is forced to own him as a senator.
This week demonstrated a peculiar brand of reckoning when it comes to public officials and sexual misconduct. It is accountability nonetheless.