WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand said Monday that she doesn't regret calling for Al Franken's resignation from the Senate and that female senators are being blamed for it in a way their male colleagues are not.
In an interview with The New Yorker magazine published Monday, Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said he "absolutely" regrets resigning in January 2018, after Gillibrand, a senator from New York, and many of his fellow Democratic colleagues urged him to do so in the wake of a series of sexual misconduct accusations.
Speaking at a Bustle Digital Group event in Manhattan, Gillibrand offered her strongest defense of her actions to date. She said The New Yorker report, which raised doubts about some of the allegations against Franken, only focused on the first accusation by conservative talk radio host Leeann Tweeden and not those of the seven other women who accused Franken of misconduct.
"There really was no critical or investigative journalism or reporting on the other seven, and that certainly causes me pause," Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand had for years described Franken as a friend and frequent squash partner, but she became the first Democratic senator to call for his resignation in December 2017. She's one of the Senate's most outspoken members on issues of sexual harassment and military sexual assault and has made advancing equal pay for women, paid family leave and defense of abortion rights centerpieces of her 2020 White House campaign.
Although many of her Senate colleagues now also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination — including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — followed her lead in calling for Franken to step down, Gillibrand has continually faced more questions than others about being too quick to condemn him.
She's said for months that she stands by her decision. But Gillibrand has also maintained that her presidential campaign's fundraising has been hurt by some top donors who continue to blame her for setting in motion the events that led to Franken's resignation. The stakes are high since Gillibrand will participate next week in the second Democratic presidential debate, but her low standing in polls and struggle to meet minimum fundraising thresholds mean she's not on track to qualify for subsequent debates — likely increasing pressure on her to drop out of the race.
Asked after Monday's event if she's been hurt in the presidential race in a way that other senators seeking the White House haven't, Gillibrand noted that others called for Franken's resignation but "you wouldn't know that today, given that I seemed to stand alone."
The New Yorker quoted seven current or former senators saying they regretted calling for Franken's resignation, none of whom are running for president. Gillibrand said Monday that she "could have told" any of the senators who called for Franken to quit that "there is no prize for someone who tries to hold accountable a powerful man who is good at his day job."
"But we should have the courage to do it anyway," she said. "So, no. I do not have any regrets."
Gillibrand also claimed that, while Franken was still in the Senate after the allegations surfaced, that there was a "double standard" where female senators were asked "every day, multiple times a day" about his resignation and the male senators were not asked as frequently.
"Were the male senators asked? Absolutely not. So let's be clear, there is absolutely a double standard," she said.
"Women are asked to hold accountable their colleagues. The men are not," Gillibrand added. "Who is being held accountable for Al Franken's decision to resign? Women senators, including me. It's outrageous. It's absurd."
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York was among a host of Democrats — male and female — who urged Franken to step down.
"I consider Senator Franken a dear friend and greatly respect his accomplishments, but he has a higher obligation to his constituents and the Senate, and he should step down immediately," Schumer said the day before Franken stepped down.
Schumer called Franken immediately after Tweeden's allegation — and before the torrent of demands for Franken's resignation from Democrats — and told him he needed to resign, a Democrat familiar with the events told The Associated Press.
Gillibrand said blaming women hurts Democrats' chances of denying President Donald Trump a second term, saying, "If this party thinks that, by not valuing women, they're going to beat Trump, well, they're wrong."
Associated Press video producer Robert Bumsted contributed to this report from New York.