Al Franken has announced he will resign from the U.S. Senate amid a rising number of sexual misconduct allegations against him.
The former comedian, writer and Saturday Night Live star made his statement on the Senate floor Thursday morning.
“Today, I am announcing that in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate,” Franken said.
“I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonour on this institution,” he declared.
Referring to President Donald Trump and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, he noted the “irony that I am leaving while a man who has bragged about sexual assaults sits in the Oval Office and a man accused of sexual wrongdoing with underaged women is campaigning with the full backing of his party.”
Several of the Minnesota Democrat’s Senate colleagues had recommended on Wednesday that it was time for Franken to quit after two new claims of inappropriate behaviour surfaced.
One woman said Franken forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006 after a taping of his radio show. Another woman said he inappropriately squeezed “a handful of flesh” on her waist while posing for a photo with her early in 2009. That brought the number of women alleging misconduct by Franken to at least eight.
Franken did not admit any new wrongdoing in his statement. “Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” Franken said. “Others I remember quite differently.”
His potential resignation had set off a rush to find a replacement.
The Democrats do not risk losing the seat for now. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate.
The responsibility to replace the Minnesota Democrat falls to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. He must decide whether to appoint a temporary placeholder or try to set someone up for a 2018 special election to finish out Franken’s term, which runs through 2020.
Dayton said Thursday he hasn’t decided on a replacement. In his speech, however, Franken himself referred to his replacement as “she.”
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith is near the top of any list, having served as Dayton’s second-in-command for three years. Smith is a longtime political operative who ran several campaigns and previously mulled a run for governor. Dayton could also look to Attorney General Lori Swanson or State Auditor Rebecca Otto.
“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable, and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”
Gillibrand was the first to call for Franken’s resignation on Wednesday, but a torrent of Democrats quickly followed.
‘Shocked and appalled’
“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behaviour,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”
Late in the day, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York added his voice.
“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.
Senator Franken is talking with his family at this time and plans to make an announcement in D.C. tomorrow. Any reports of a final decision are inaccurate.
Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez weighed in, too, asking Franken to resign and saying, “Sexual misconduct, harassment and assault have no place in the Democratic Party, the United States Congress, the White House or anywhere.”
The resignation demands came in rapid succession even though Franken on Wednesday vehemently denied the new accusation that came from a former Democratic congressional aide, who said he tried to forcibly kiss her.
The former staffer told Politico she ducked to avoid Franken’s lips. The political journalism website quoted her as saying Franken told her: “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
Franken, in a statement, said the idea he would claim such conduct as a right was “preposterous.”
Franken’s career before becoming a senator in July 2009 included being a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live. He left the show in 1995 and went on to become an author, radio host and progressive political activist.