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Combative Franken quits, points to GOP tolerance of Trump

Alan Fram, Associated Press | 12/7/2017, 6:26 p.m.
Sen. Al Franken, a rising political star only weeks ago, reluctantly announced Thursday he's resigning from Congress, succumbing to a ...
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday morning, Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, a rising political star only weeks ago, reluctantly announced Thursday he's resigning from Congress, succumbing to a torrent of sexual harassment allegations and evaporating support from fellow Democrats. But he fired a defiant parting shot at President Donald Trump and other Republicans he said have survived much worse accusations.

"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.

The 66-year-old Minnesotan, a former "Saturday Night Live" comedian who made a successful leap to liberal U.S. senator, announced his decision in a subdued Senate chamber three weeks after the first accusations of sexual misconduct emerged but just a day after most of his Democratic colleagues proclaimed he had to go. His remarks underscored the bitterness many in the party feel toward a GOP that they say has made a political calculation to tolerate Trump and Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who've both been accused of sexual assaults that they've denied.

In largely unapologetic remarks that lasted 11 minutes, Franken said "all women deserve to be heard" but asserted that some accusations against him were untrue. He called himself "a champion of women" during his Senate career who fought to improve people's lives.

"Even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it's all been worth it," he said.

Franken's departure, which he said would occur in "coming weeks," made him the latest figure from politics, journalism and the arts to be toppled since October. That's when the first articles appeared revealing sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein and energizing the #MeToo movement in which women have named men they say abused or harassed them.

Democratic Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will name a temporary successor, who will serve until a special election next November.

Franken's comments appended a melancholy coda to the political career of the one-time TV funnyman who became one of his party's most popular and bellicose liberals.

Just two days earlier, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., a civil rights hero who'd been the House's longest-serving current member, resigned after facing sexual harassment allegations of his own. The two departures underscored the party's determination to show no tolerance for such behavior, a strategy that can bring stunningly fast conclusions to political careers but that party leaders believe could give them high moral ground on a subject that's shown no sign of fading.

On a 2005 audio tape released shortly before last year's presidential election, Trump is heard talking about grabbing women, and several women accused him of sexual assaults. Women in Alabama have accused Moore of unwanted sexual contact and pursuing romantic relationships when they were teenagers and he was in his thirties during the 1970s.

Asked about Franken's comment about him on Thursday, Trump merely replied, "I didn't hear it, sorry."

At least eight women had accused Franken of inappropriate sexual behavior. Until this week, he'd said he'd remain in the Senate and cooperate with an investigation into his behavior.