Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced his resignation from the Senate on Thursday after eight women came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against him.
“Let me be clear,” Franken said as he announced his decision on the Senate floor. “I may be resigning my seat but I am not giving up my voice. I will continue to stand up for the things I believe in as a citizen and as an activist.”
Franken’s stunning departure began as a slow burn in November, when radio personality Leeann Tweeden, accused Franken of forcibly kissing and groping her on a USO tour in 2006. Franken apologized and said he recalled the incident differently, but several other women came forward in the intervening weeks with accusations of groping or inappropriate touching.
The Senate Ethics Committee had begun investigating the incidents involving Franken — something the senator himself had called for after the initial allegations against him. But on Wednesday, two more women came forward with stories of misconduct, and several female Democratic senators began calling for the Minnesota senator to step down. More joined the chorus, leading to Franken’s floor speech Thursday morning.
“Serving in the United States Senate has been the great honor of my life,” Franken said. “I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonor on this institution. And I am confident that the ethics committee would agree. Nevertheless, today I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States.”
The senator struck an embittered tone, casting doubt on some of the allegations against him and expressing frustration at the circumstances of his departure.
“I, of all people, am aware there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said. “But this decision is not about me.”
Read Franken’s full speech below (rush transcript):
A couple months ago I felt we had entered an important moment in the history of this country. We were finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men's actions affect them. The moment was long overdue. I was excited for that conversation and hopeful that it would result in real change that made life better for women all across the country and in every part of our society. Then the conversation turned to me. Over the last few weeks, a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them. I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claims, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously.
I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven't done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently. I said at the outset that the ethics committee was the right venue for these allegations to be heard and investigated and evaluated on their merits. That I was prepared to cooperate fully and that I was confident in the outcome.
You know, an important part of the conversation we've been having the last few months has been about how men abuse their power and privilege to hurt women. I am proud that during my time in the Senate I have used my power to be a champion of women. And that I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day. I know there has been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks, but I know who I really am. Serving in the United States Senate has been the great honor of my life. I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator — nothing — has brought dishonor on this institution. And I am confident that the ethics committee would agree. Nevertheless, today I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.
I, of all people, am aware there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the oval office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party. But this decision is not about me. It's about the people of Minnesota. It's become clear that I can't both pursue the ethics committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for them. Let me be clear, I may be resigning my seat but I am not giving up my voice. I will continue to stand up for the things I believe in as a citizen and as an activist.
Minnesotans deserve a senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day. There is a big part of me that will always regret having to walk away from this job with so much work left to be done. But I have faith that the work will continue because I have faith in the people who have helped me do it. I have faith in the dedicated, funny, selfless, brilliant, young men and women on my staff. They have so much more to contribute to our country and I hope that as disappointed as they may feel today, everyone who has worked for me knows how much I admire and respect them.
I have faith in my colleagues, especially my senior senator, Amy Klobuchar. I would not have been able to do this job without her guidance and wisdom. And I have faith, or at least hope, that members of this Senate will find the political courage necessary to keep asking the tough questions, hold this administration accountable, and stand up for the truth. I have faith in the activists who organize who helped me win my first campaign and who have kept on organizing to help fight for the people who needed us, kids facing bullying, seniors worried about the price of prescription drugs, native Americans who have been overlooked for far too long. Working people who have been taking it on the chin for a generation.
Everyone in the middle class and everyone aspiring to join it. I have faith in the proud legacy of Progressive advocacy that I have had the privilege to be a part of. I think I probably repeated these words 10,000 times over the years, Paul Wellstone's famous quote, “The future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard.” It's still true. It will always be true. Most of all, I have faith in Minnesota. A big part of this job is going around the state and listening to what people need from Washington but more often than not, when I'm home I am blown away by how much Minnesota has to offer the entire country and the entire world.
The people I've had the honor of representing are brilliant and creative and hard working and whoever holds this seat next will inherit the challenge I've enjoyed for the last 8 1/2 years, being as good as the people you serve. This has been a tough few weeks for me. But I am a very, very lucky man.
I have a beautiful, healthy family that I love and that loves me very much. I'm going to be just fine. I would just like to end with one last thing. I did not grow up wanting to be a politician. I came to this relatively late in life. I had to learn a lot on the fly. It wasn't easy and it wasn't always fun.
And I'm not just talking about today this is a hard thing to do with your life. There are a lot of long hours and late nights and hard lessons. And there is no guarantee that all your work and sacrifice will ever pay off.
I won my first election by 312 votes. Could have easily gone the other way. And even when you win, progress is far from inevitable. Paul Wellstone spend his whole life working for mental health parity and it didn't pass until six years after Paul died. This year a lot of people who didn't grow up imagining that they would ever get involved in politics have done just that. They have gone to their first protest March or made their first call to a member of Congress or maybe even taken the leap and put their names on a ballot for the first time. It can be such a rush to look around the room of full of people ready to fight alongside you. To feel that energy. To imagine that better things are possible but you, too, will experience setbacks and defeats and disappointments.
There will be days when you will wonder whether it's worth it. What I want you to know is that even today, even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it's all been worth it. Politics, Paul Wellstone told us is about the improvement of people's lives. I know that the work I've been able to do has improved people's lives. I would do it all over again in a heart beat.
For a decade now, every time I would get tired or discouraged or frustrated, I would think about the people I was doing this for and would get me back up on my feet. I know the same will be true for everyone who decides to pursue politics that is about improving people's lives. And I hope you know that I will be fighting alongside you every step of the way. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor. Thank you.