Al Franken gave his last speech as a US senator on Thursday — the final of three speeches he has delivered this week to culminate his work in the Senate and share his Democratic vision for future.
To a room of mostly Democratic colleagues in the Senate, the Minnesota Democrat made a heartfelt case for economic and social equality. He made a plea to protect the nation’s safety net and spoke against voter suppression. He urged his Republican colleagues to recognize the effects of climate change, and to “stand up for truth.”
His remarks were followed by the glowing reflections of four of his Democratic colleagues — Sens. Amy Klobuchar (MN), Dick Durbin (IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Jeff Merkley (OR) — all of whom thanked Franken for his lasting legacy and service to the American people.
Lost in the proceedings was that Franken, who announced he will depart on January 2, is resigning because of eight credible allegations of sexual misconduct, including groping and forcibly kissing women, once while allegedly saying, “It’s my right as an entertainer.”
Franken is resigning because the same Democratic colleagues who shook his hand and patted him on the back Thursday had called on him to resign — in an overwhelming and seemingly unpartisan acknowledgement of a zero-tolerance policy surrounding sexual assault and harassment in the Senate.
But Thursday, by all accounts, was not the goodbye of a man resigning in disgrace.
Instead, it was a confirmation that Franken will be remembered by his Senate colleagues as a giant of the Democratic Party and of the institution of the Senate. That he will have a voice that is supported and lauded.
"He will not be quieted in any way,” Klobuchar, Franken’s Democratic colleague from Minnesota, said. “His voice will be stronger than ever, and I think that last call of action that he left us with — for a way in truth and truth in what we do and truth in politics — is something that no one should forget in this chamber.”
Klobuchar, who notably did not call on Franken to resign but said the allegations should be investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee, added that she knows she and Franken will “stay friends forever.”
Durbin said he was “sorry” for the circumstances of Franken’s exit.
“I am sorry that he’s leaving under these circumstances, but he is going to be remembered, and he’s going to have an opportunity to use his voice for others in the future,” Durbin said.
As sexual harassment persists as a national flashpoint, Capitol Hill has come under scrutiny as a breeding ground for this kind of behavior. A concentration of the nation’s most powerful men and women, congressional staffers and lawmakers have been hearing rumors of bombshell sexual harassment reports to come, possibly implicating upward of 20 or 30 lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The notion has raised an important question in a body known for being both archaic and arcane, especially on matters of transparency and accountability: Will Congress be able to credibly address sexual harassment against its own members?
If Franken is a test of how Congress will respond to allegations of sexual misconduct, Democrats have bungled the exercise.
They have both censured and ousted one of their own, but also given him a red carpet to walk out on — regardless of the message that sends to victims of sexual assault.
“There were credible allegations ... that doesn’t change the fact that Al had a great body of work while he was here and was friends with many of us,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told Vox. “What you are seeing are people respecting his body of work, but it doesn’t change the fact that we did the right thing regarding the allegations.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who said he regretted calling on Franken to resign, said the scene on the Senate floor was the “most hypocritical thing I’ve ever seen done to a human being — and then have enough guts to sit on the floor, watch him give his speech, and go over and hug him?”
“That’s hypocrisy at the highest level I’ve ever seen in my life. Made me sick,” Manchin told Politico’s Off Message podcast.
It wasn’t just hugs.
Franken’s colleagues gave him the final word.