The moments that followed Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s resignation announcement, amid eight allegations of sexual harassment, were filled with sounds of mourning.
The slap of a comforting hand on his back. The rustle of a Well said handshake. The sniffle of a consolatory tear.
One by one, Democratic senators stood in line to give Franken a hug. Among them were several who had been part of a coordinated effort Wednesday to publicly call for his resignation — an effort that was ultimately successful. His staffers sat in a line wiping away tears.
The allegations against high-profile Democrats like Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Franken have created a moment of reckoning for the Democratic Party, which has long fought to position itself as the party of gender equality and women’s rights. Would Democrats take a stand against their own? Franken’s announcement was anticipated to be a breakthrough — a national flashpoint, where deep partisan ties would be put aside to hold even the most prominent progressive voices accountable.
But over the course of roughly 20 minutes, Franken, who did not apologize for his alleged actions, admit wrongdoing, or name a single one of his accusers, left the Senate floor somehow no longer the accused but the victim.
Franken made the case that he was the collateral damage in a cultural revolution to hold powerful men accountable for their actions — a force of change that he himself has championed as good. That is, until it came to him.
He said others have been accused of similar, if not worse, acts and have yet to be held accountable.
“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, in direct reference to President Donald Trump, who has been accused by more than a dozen women of harassment and assault, and Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican Senate candidate who has been accused of child molestation.
Franken said he will be “just fine.”
“This has been a tough few weeks for me,” he said. “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.”
The statement was less an understanding that powerful men of means accused of serious sexual misconduct rarely see actual consequences than a consolation to his defenders.
Franken has denied some of the allegations against him, apologized for others, and chalked up many to unconscious misunderstandings. The Minnesota Democrat previously said he would cooperate with a Senate ethics investigation into his behavior, but was pressured to resign this week after another woman came forward, alleging that he tried to forcibly kiss her three years before becoming a senator. He denies the accusation. Nevertheless, the report, published by Politico, prompted several female Democratic senators to organize a call for Franken’s resignation.
“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” Sen. Patty Murray (WA) said. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time.”
“The allegations against Sen. Franken describe behavior that cannot be tolerated,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) tweeted. “While he’s entitled to an Ethics Committee hearing, I believe he should step aside to let someone else serve.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had joined the chorus by Thursday morning. Without the support of his colleagues, Franken seemingly had no choice but to resign. It represents a critical moment in an institution known for being both archaic and arcane, especially on matters of transparency and accountability. In Congress, claims of sexual harassment are often buried beneath layers of bureaucracy. Now they can result in career-altering consequences, regardless of whether the accused admits guilt.
Yet many of those same Democratic senators who called for Franken’s resignation joined in what appeared to be a sympathetic and supportive goodbye after his announcement. Franken’s speech and the ensuing response was much more partisan than the initial calls for investigation or his resignation. Franken made the sudden deluge of serious sexual harassment allegations against him sound like a pointed hunt, with innocent civilian casualties — and the room appeared to believe him.
In the opening lines of his announcement, Franken said America is “finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men’s actions affect them.”
His final message: Just don’t believe all of them.