Senate Democrats call on Franken to resign

WASHINGTON — A majority of Senate Democrats on Wednesday called for the resignation of Senator Al Franken after determining that they could no longer tolerate his presence in the chamber as a growing number of women accused him of sexual harassment.

They turned on one of their party’s most popular figures with stunning swiftness, led by the Senate’s Democratic women, who were joined in short order by more than half of the Democratic caucus.

‘‘Enough is enough,’’ Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, said at a news conference. ‘‘We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable. We as elected leaders should absolutely be held to a higher standard, not a lower standard, and we should fundamentally be valuing women. That is where this debate has to go.’’


Franken’s office said he would make an announcement about his future on Thursday. Minnesota Public Radio reported Wednesday afternoon that Franken planned to resign, but Franken’s office quickly denied it on Twitter. ‘‘Not accurate,’’ the tweet stated. ‘‘No final decision has been made and the Senator is still talking with his family.’’

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If he steps down soon, a replacement would be appointed by Minnesota’s Democratic governor to serve until the 2018 election.

The drive to purge Franken, coming a day after Representative John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, resigned under pressure in the House, was a dramatic indication of the political toxicity that has grown around the issue of sexual harassment in recent months.

It also stood as a stark — and deliberate — contrast with how the Republicans are handling a parallel situation in Alabama, where Roy Moore, their candidate for US Senate in next week’s special election, is accused by women of pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Franken was becoming a growing liability to his party, and Republicans had seized upon the allegations against him.


At Moore’s Tuesday night rally, conservative pundit Gina Loudon declared that Republicans did not need lectures on morality from Democrats who had struggled with their own sex scandals and cited both Conyers and Franken.

President Trump, himself the target of multiple allegations of sexual assault, has endorsed Moore, and the Republican Party is once again pouring money into the race after pulling back.

Leading Senate Republicans have also toned down their negative comments about Moore, saying his fate should be up to the voters of Alabama and — if he is elected — the Senate Ethics Committee.

‘‘I’m looking for where are the Republican voices? Where is their outrage?’’ Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, said on CNN.

Republican leaders remained quiet amid the developments.


Asked about Franken, Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn, Texas, said he would ‘‘leave it up to [Democrats] to deal with members of their own party.’’

The move by Senate Democrats to oust Franken marked a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the onetime ‘‘Saturday Night Live’’ star. The Minnesota senator had emerged as one of the Trump administration’s sharpest foils on Capitol Hill — and as a potential 2020 presidential contender.

Over the past three weeks, more than a half-dozen women have accused Franken of unwanted advances and touching. He apologized, saying in some cases that he had not intended to give offense and in others that he did not recall events as the women did.

The latest allegation against Franken came in a report published Wednesday by Politico. A former congressional aide whose name was withheld by the publication asserted that Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, two years before his election to the Senate.

The woman said Franken had told her, ‘‘It’s my right as an entertainer.’’

Senate minority leader Charles Schumer of New York, who had stood by his friend in the wake of the allegations, called Franken after the Politico story broke early Wednesday and told him directly he had to resign, according to a person familiar with the call, who added that this came before other senators began calling for him to step down.

Schumer also met with Franken and his wife at the leader’s apartment early afternoon to discuss resigning. The session ended without a firm commitment from Franken to do so, said the source, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about the private exchange.

In recent days — before Wednesday’s report — Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has known Franken for nearly two decades, had also told Franken he needed to step down, aides familiar with their discussions said. On Wednesday, Warren issued a short public statement, saying, ‘‘I think he should resign.’’

Her Massachusetts colleague, Edward Markey, also supports Franken’s resignation.